Babies React to Faces Inside the Womb

First Posted: Jun 26, 2017 11:59 PM EDT

Researchers have discovered that babies inside the womb might respond to peekaboo just as much as when outside of it.

"We have shown the fetus can distinguish between different shapes, preferring to track face-like over non-face-like shapes," says Vincent Reid, lead author of the study. "This preference has been recognized in babies for many decades, but until now exploring fetal vision has not been attempted."

This means that it is now possible to explore both a baby's perception as well as cognition prenatally.

This discovery came to be via the projection of light through the uterine wall of pregnant mothers. Using 4D ultrasound, the researchers studied the fetuses' reactions when shown face associated stimuli upright and upside down.

The ultrasound displayed that the fetuses reacted more to face-like stimuli that were upright instead of upside down by turning their head more often.

"There was the possibility that the fetus would find any shape interesting due to the novelty of the stimulus," Reid says. "If this was the case, we would have seen no difference in how they responded to the upright and upside-down versions of the stimuli. But it turned out that they responded in a way that was very similar to infants."

These findings confirm several things. First, learning after birth is not required. Second, fetuses have plenty of light to see in the womb. But beware pregnant mothers - Reid urges against pregnant moms projecting lights into their bellies.

What's next? Researchers are now trying to improve the light quality used in the current study to explore what else prenatal babies know. Because newborns can differentiate numbers and quantities, they want to know if fetuses in the third trimester are able to do so as well.

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