Babies can hear and respond to emotions in a human voice when they're just three months old, new research has revealed.

The results of the tests mean babies' brains develop much faster than previously thought, with the researchers saying it was previously unclear when humans develop the ability to process voices and emotions.

The scientists, from Kings College and University College, London used functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI) to record how babies responded to tapes playing emotional sounds, such as laughing and crying, and background noises, such as water.

They discovered that voices triggered the temporal cortex - the same part of the brain adults use to process voices. They also found that the limbic brain region responded to negative and sad sounds, but made little differentiation between neutral and happy sounds.

Professor Declan Murphy told the BBC: "This discovery fundamentally advances our understanding of infant development."

Posted by Robert Mair on 5.7.11 Comment on this article by sending it to: penny.hosie@pavpub.com  

 Baby hearing small