Study reveals newborns recall words heard in utero

The little human being living inside a pregnant mother turns out to be a lot more capable than previously known.  Kathy Drummond describes the research that led to the startling finding that newborns can recall words they heard in the womb in The Verge: research offers provocative evidence that an unborn fetus can not only hear sounds from the outside world, but is actually capable of recalling specific words in the days following birth.

In a study out of the University of Helsinki that builds on previous investigations, a team used EEG scans on 33 newborn babies to reach that conclusion. Their research started, however, when those infants were still in the womb: moms-to-be in their third trimester were divided into two groups, with only one group listening to repeating sequences of a nonsensical word ("tatata"). Occasionally, the word would be delivered with a subtle tweak in pronunciation or tone. In all, some study participants listened to that same word a whopping - and probably insufferable - 25,000 times.

Five days following birth, the team played those same recordings to each newborn. Babies who'd been exposed to the sounds in-utero showed a specific pattern of enhanced brain activity when they heard the word, as well as a reaction known as "a mismatch response" when they heard the altered version of "tatata." These reactions, researchers suggest, indicate a recollection of the word and its conventional delivery. "Once we learn a sound, if it's repeated to us often enough, we form a memory of it, which is activated when we hear the sound again," Eino Partanen, a cognitive neuroscientist and the study's lead author, toldScience. "This leads us to believe that the fetus can learn much more detailed information than we previously thought."

Abortion advocates like to throw around the term "fetal tissue mass" to dehumanize the fetus, but science increasingly informs us of the wondrous capabilities of the human life entrusted to a mother's care during pregnancy.

Hat tip: David Paulin


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