While many believe that babies are born as “blank slates,” they may actually enter the world with more memory than we think.
Research has found that fetal auditory learning becomes possible soon after the onset of hearing, by around 27 weeks. Looking to understand whether babies remember sounds heard in the womb, a group of researchers from Finland conducted a study looking at the effect of pregnancy music on brain activity.
They asked a group of mothers to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” during their last trimester. They also studied a control group of mothers who did not play their babies the music. The researchers checked in on the babies in both groups after birth, and at four months, to test their learning. They played the babies the same melody, but with a few notes changed, and recorded their brain response.
The researchers found that the babies of the mothers who had played the music during pregnancy had stronger brain responses to the original tune than the others. The team also found that the babies of the mothers who played the song more often had even more intense brain responses.
“Our results show that prenatal exposure to music can have long-term effects on the developing brain and enhance neural responsiveness to the sounds used in the prenatal training,” says Eino Partanen, research team leader. “Since the prenatal auditory environment modulates the neural responsiveness of fetuses, it seems plausible that the adverse prenatal sound environment may also have long-lasting detrimental effects.” So while babies may pick up on more pleasant sounds like their mother’s voice or music, they may also be affected by noisy home and work environments.
As the study stated: “…additional fetal exposure to structured sound environments might be beneficial for supporting the auditory processing of, for example, infants at risk for dyslexia in whom basic auditory processing was shown to be impaired.”
In conclusion, the research shows that the external prenatal sound environment may affect babies in the womb: they can retain memories of prenatal music long after birth. Parents should also ensure that sources of loud, prolonged noise are avoided, during as well as after pregnancy.
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