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PLoS One. 2019 Feb 27;14(2):e0212205. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0212205. eCollection 2019.

Is infant neural sensitivity to vocal emotion associated with mother-infant relational experience?

Author information

Centre for Women's Mental Health, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom.
Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience (DCN) Laboratory, School of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, United Kingdom.
Division of Neuroscience & Experimental Psychology, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom.
Developmental Brain-Behaviour Laboratory, Psychology, University of Southampton, United Kingdom.
Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, United Kingdom.


An early understanding of others' vocal emotions provides infants with a distinct advantage for eliciting appropriate care from caregivers and for navigating their social world. Consistent with this notion, an emerging literature suggests that a temporal cortical response to the prosody of emotional speech is observable in the first year of life. Furthermore, neural specialisation to vocal emotion in infancy may vary according to early experience. Neural sensitivity to emotional non-speech vocalisations was investigated in 29 six-month-old infants using near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Both angry and happy vocalisations evoked increased activation in the temporal cortices (relative to neutral and angry vocalisations respectively), and the strength of the angry minus neutral effect was positively associated with the degree of directiveness in the mothers' play interactions with their infant. This first fNIRS study of infant vocal emotion processing implicates bilateral temporal mechanisms similar to those found in adults and suggests that infants who experience more directive caregiving or social play may more strongly or preferentially process vocal anger by six months of age.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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