Hearing Your Name Called

Even young children love to hear their own names—it’s one reason I See Me’s customized board books are so popular. We wondered, however, why children seem to focus on their names so intently. What, exactly, happens in a child’s brain when she hears her name?

The first thing we discovered is that, while it’s relatively easy to use magnetic resonance imaging to map an adult or older child’s brain, it’s more difficult with infants. The child has to be sedated, which can change brain activity and, let’s face it, isn’t something you want to do to an infant unless absolutely necessary. To get an idea of how children respond to hearing their name, we have to make some educated guesses based on studies with adults.

One such study, published in Brain Research back in 2006, examined the neurological activity in four English-speaking, right-handed mail adults when they hear their names. While a very small study, the results were interesting. In all four cases, when the participants heard their own names the researchers saw increased activity in the left hemisphere of the brain than they recorded when other people’s names were mentioned. The areas which saw increased activity included the middle frontal cortex, the middle and superior temporal cortex, and the cuneus. That’s some significant brain activity in response to a single name.

If the same thing happens with infants, we’re giving their brain’s a little extra workout when we call them by name. Interestingly, the study authors note the same brain areas activate when people make judgements relating to themselves or consider their personal qualities.

So what does this mean for children? Identifying our names is a big step in the development of self-representation, which begins in the first year of life. This further develops in the second year with the dawning of self-recognition, pretend play, and the use of personal pronouns.

In other words, hearing their names helps infants develop a sense of self. It’s possible the simple act of hearing our own names often helps us develop this important sense faster. Hearing our own name reaffirms who we are. But then again, perhaps parents know this at an instinctive level. Why else would we even have names?

Resource: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1647299/

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