Babies in the womb are capable of learning words as well as recognizing distinct sounds, according to new research, emphasizing the complexity and wonder of life at its earliest stages.
Previous studies and anecdotes suggested unborn babies are able to learn sounds while still in the womb. Research has suggested newborn babies find sounds from other languages unfamiliar, with babies of English-speaking parents reacting differently to vowel sounds they don’t recognize. Newborn babies have also been found to recognize the theme song from their mom’s favorite TV show.
While these studies hinted at memory development in unborn babies, they all depended on judging newborns’ behaviors, according to Science Now. These behaviors do show us something, but aren’t reliable. So, a group of researchers from the University of Helsinki, in Finland, decided to dig deeper to find out if babies can learn to recognize specific sounds before they are born.
The researchers “taught” 17 unborn babies in the study a series of sounds and pitches, by having their mothers play a CD of music interspersed with sound patterns. They used a madeup word that does not appear in the babies’ native language and interspersed the repitition with changes in vowel intensity and duration.
After the babies were born, researchers monitored brain wave activity to measure the newborns’ memories. “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,” said cognitive neuroscientist Eino Partanen.
Babies who heard the CD in utero responded with significantly more brain memory activity than the babies in the control group. “These results indicate that the shaping of the central auditory system begins before birth,” the researchers concluded. They also found the babies had learned the patterns of the alternating vowel sounds and emphasis, which indicated a genuine ability to learn while still in the womb.
The authors said the findings could promote early auditory development, with potential benefits especially in compensating for genetic difficulties like language impairment or dyslexia. But pro-life groups pointed to the study’s broader implications. Researchers looking for scientific data instead discovered the miraculous complexity of God’s creation. Live Action News suggested this might be another step toward a “day when these ‘intrauterine contents’ might be labeled human by those outside of the medical and scientific communities.”