Plasticity in Developing Brain:
Active Auditory Exposure Impacts Prelinguistic Acoustic Mapping

Researchers at the Infancy Studies Laboratory at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, using a series of 8-10 minute experimental sessions with babies ages four to seven months, discovered a way to help them organize the brain pathways that will help them perceive language. In the study, Dr. April Benasich and team demonstrate that active exposure during early infancy to nonspeech stimuli containing linguistically relevant acoustic cues appears to confer a significant acoustic processing advantage when compared with passive exposure or maturation alone. Specifically, such experience appears to facilitate neural plasticity and more efficient sensory processing during the developmental period when infants are constructing their sensory maps.

The promise of selectively "fine-tuning" acoustic mapping as it emerges has far-reaching implications for the amelioration and/or prevention of developmental language disorders. Further exploration of experience-dependent neural mechanisms underlying acoustic mapping will provide the opportunity to identify and characterize the earliest precursors and biological markers of normative and disordered language processing.

A major task across infancy is the creation and tuning of the acoustic maps that allow efficient native language processing. This process crucially depends on ongoing neural plasticity and keen sensitivity to environmental cues. Young babies are constantly scanning the environment to identify sounds that 'might' be language. Between 4 and 7 months of age infants are setting up their pre-linguistic acoustic maps. In this study, babies' brains were gently guided to focus on the sensory inputs that are most meaningful to the formation of these critical maps. For the 8 to 15 percent of infants at highest risk for poor auditory processing and subsequent language disorders, this baby-friendly behavioral intervention could have far-reaching implications and may offer the promise of improving or perhaps preventing language difficulties.

Benasich, A.A., Choudhury, N.A., Realpe-Bonilla, T., & Roesler, C. (2014). Plasticity in Developing Brain: Active Auditory Exposure Impacts Prelinguistic Acoustic Mapping. The Journal of Neuroscience; Oct. 1, 2014; 34(40):13349-13363.