By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — You may think your baby doesn’t understand that argument you’re having, but he may be responding to it anyway.

A study from Oregon in the journal “Pyschological Science” says infants show distinct patterns of brain activity depending on the emotions in voice.

“Hearing is very closely associated to the part of the brain where fight-flight is located,” says pyschologist Paul Friday, PhD.

A special type of scan called functional MRI takes a picture of brain blood flow in response to a stimulus — such as sound.

Twenty infants from 6- to 12-months-old were scanned while listening to a male voice speak nonsense sentences in happy, neutral, somewhat upset and very angry tones.

Parents also completed questionnaires about how much conflict there was at home.

Babies from the least peaceful households showed a stronger reaction to the very angry tone of voice in areas deep in the brain related to emotional control.

The patterns even occurred during sleep.

“We are hard wired for survival. So this is not a bad thing, this really means the kids are okay,” says Dr. Friday. “In all families we have arguing. The issue is to be calm about it and to be careful about how loud the decibels get, and it’s probably better to do it away from the children.”

The long term implication of this will have to be studied. We don’t know yet whether these early life responses have an effect on later brain development.

“There are brain areas that are activated in response to a stimulus. That doesn’t necessarily mean the brain is altered,” Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh neuroradiologist Dr. Ashok Panigrahy said.

“An occasional argument is not going to drive your children crazy. If anything it lets them sort of get ready for the real world that has lots of arguments,” Dr. Friday adds.

More Health News
More Reports from Dr. Maria Simbra

More From CBS Pittsburgh

Get The All New CBS Local App
KDKA Weather App

Watch & Listen LIVE