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Home > Research Articles > Unborn babies recognise their mother's voice

Health Media Ltd

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Health Media Ltd

Researchers, from Queen's University in Canada and Zhejiang University in China, have found that foetuses are capable of learning in the womb.

Previous research has shown that newborn babies prefer to listen to their mothers rather than female strangers. But the new study, published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that they can remember and recognise their mother's voices while still in the womb.

Dr Barbara Kisilevsky, lead researcher, said, "This is an extremely exciting finding that provides evidence of sustained attention, memory and learning by the foetus."

She said the findings showed that babies' experience in the womb affected their behaviour and development, and that voice recognition may play a role in mother-infant attachment.

The researchers played a two-minute recording to 30 foetuses of their own mothers reading them a poem. Another 30 foetuses were played the voice of a female stranger reading the poem.

When their mothers read the poem, the foetuses' heart rates accelerated. The heart rates of those who heard the stranger's voice slowed down. These changes lasted for the duration of the tape and for at least two minutes afterwards.

Dr Kisilevsky said, "These results tell us that the foetuses heard and responded to both voices and that there was sustained attention to both voices.

"But because they responded differently to the two voices, we know they had to recognise their own mother's voice. We believe they are probably already learning about language in general and their own language specifically," she said.

The researchers say the results suggest the foundations for speech perception and language acquisition are laid before birth. They are now investigating foetal response to the father's voice and the ability to differentiate between English and Mandarin.

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HMG Worldwide 2003