From the moment of birth, an infant begins rapidly absorbing information, piecing together the framework of his or her future self .But what happens during all that time the baby is still in the womb? Does learning begin in utero?
Absolutely, says Rick Gilmore, Associate Professor of Psychology at
Penn State University, ‘There’s ample evidence that fetuses are especially receptive to sounds from the mother’s body and the external environment.’
He points to a hugely influential 1986 study conducted by Anthony DeCasper at the University of South Carolina that seems to prove the existence of prenatal learning.
‘Mothers were instructed to read ” The Cat in the Hat out ” loud while they were pregnant,’ Gilmore explains, ‘When the babies were born, researchers tested to see if they recognized the story against other stories, and their mother’s voice against other readers.’
Notes Gilmore, hearing is one of the first senses to develop.
As early as 16 weeks gestation, a developing fetus begins to perceive the world outside the womb through his or her fluid-filled ears.
‘Inside the womb, people’s voices sound sort of muted. However there is a lot of information in that filtered and muted sound stream.’
A Japanese study shows that the fetus can also learn to ignore annoyance of ordinary life: the roar of an airplane overhead. Infants born to women who lived beneath the flight pattern of Osaka airport were five times more likely to sleep through the noise than were babies whose mothers lived elsewhere.
`It’s important to understand that, while in utero learning does exist, the type of learning is quite simple,’ concludes Prof. Gilmore. `There’s very little evidence of any specific thing a parent can do to affect a child’s intelligence or temperament before birth.’