Babies can learn their first lullabies in the womb

October 30, 2013
Babies remember lullabies learned in the womb. Credit: Veikko Somerpuro

An infant can recognize a lullaby heard in the womb for several months after birth, potentially supporting later speech development. This is indicated in a new study at the University of Helsinki.

The study focused on 24 women during the final trimester of their pregnancies. Half of the women played the melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to their fetuses five days a week for the final stages of their pregnancies. The brains of the babies who heard the melody in utero reacted more strongly to the familiar both immediately and four months after birth when compared with the control group. These results show that fetuses can recognise and remember sounds from the outside world.

This is significant for the early rehabilitation, since rehabilitation aims at long-term changes in the .

"Even though our earlier research indicated that could learn minor details of speech, we did not know how long they could retain the information. These results show that babies are capable of learning at a very young age, and that the effects of the learning remain apparent in the brain for a long time," expounds Eino Partanen, who is currently finishing his dissertation at the Cognitive Brain Research Unit.

"This is the first study to track how long fetal memories remain in the brain. The results are significant, as studying the responses in the brain let us focus on the foundations of fetal memory. The early mechanisms of memory are currently unknown," points out Dr Minna Huotilainen, principal investigator.

The researchers believe that song and speech are most beneficial for the fetus in terms of speech development. According to the current understanding, the processing of singing and speech in the brains are partly based on shared mechanisms, and so hearing a song can support a baby's . However, little is known about the possible detrimental effects that noise in the workplace can cause to a fetus during the final trimester. An extensive research project on this topic is underway at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

The study was published by the esteemed American scientific journal PLOS ONE. The research was conducted at the Academy of Finland's Finnish Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research as well as the Cognitive Brain Research Unit at the University of Helsinki Institute of Behavioural Sciences.

More information: Partanen E, Kujala T, Tervaniemi M, Huotilainen M (2013) Prenatal Music Exposure Induces Long-Term Neural Effects. PLoS ONE 8(10): e78946. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078946 . dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0078946

Related Stories

Brain development differs in children who stutter

October 10, 2013

(Edmonton) A new study by a University of Alberta researcher shows that children who stutter have less grey matter in key regions of the brain responsible for speech production than children who do not stutter.

Recommended for you

Surprising similarity in fly and mouse motion vision

July 29, 2015

At first glance, the eyes of mammals and those of insects do not seem to have much in common. However, a comparison of the neural circuits for detecting motion shows surprising parallels between flies and mice. Scientists ...

Research grasps how the brain plans gripping motion

July 28, 2015

With the results of a new study, neuroscientists have a firmer grasp on the way the brain formulates commands for the hand to grip an object. The advance could lead to improvements in future brain-computer interfaces that ...

New research rethinks how we grab and hold onto objects

July 28, 2015

It's been a long day. You open your fridge and grab a nice, cold beer. A pretty simple task, right? Wrong. While you're debating between an IPA and a lager, your nervous system is calculating a complex problem: how hard to ...

It don't mean a thing if the brain ain't got that swing

July 27, 2015

Like Duke Ellington's 1931 jazz standard, the human brain improvises while its rhythm section keeps up a steady beat. But when it comes to taking on intellectually challenging tasks, groups of neurons tune in to one another ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.