A research team from Lancaster University found that during the third trimester of pregnancy, foetuses can recognise face-like shapes

face1.jpgImage taken from youtube.com


By Hayley Fryer

Despite not being able to focus properly in the first few weeks of life, research has shown that babies search for human faces from birth, and are able to process faces long before they recognise other objects.

It is thought that this helps babies to connect with their caregiver, and allow them to develop social behaviours.

It is already known that foetuses can see, but a new study conducted at Lancaster University has found babies may be able to recognise a human face whilst still in the womb.

This would mean that their face-recognising ability begins much sooner than previously believed.


The research

Vincent Reid and his team at Lancaster University shone three red dots into the wombs of mothers who were in their third trimester, and tracked the movement of their foetuses.


Image taken from Kirsty Dunn and Vincent Reid, Lancaster University


The research team has found that foetuses will turn to follow three dots which resemble a human face.

To resemble a face, they made two dots sitting above one, to mimic two eyes and a mouth. As a comparison, they inverted this shape, with one dot sitting above two.

They tested the patterns on 39 foetuses in their third trimester, five times each. They moved the dots slowly and tracked the movement of the foetus by using high-definition ultrasound.

They found that the foetus turned to follow the face-like shape 40 times, whereas they only followed the inverted image 14 times.

The team have suggested that this is a “robust finding”, as there is such a marked difference in foetus response to the two experimental conditions.


What else can foetuses sense in the womb?

As well as seeing faces, research has shown that babies can also hear music and even sing along in the womb

face3Image taken from bustle.com


Some people may believe that a womb is a closed system, completely private from the outside world.

However, numerous studies have shown that foetuses receive a large amount of sensory stimulation from outside the womb.

Research has shown that by as young as 10 weeks, babies will have developed the receptors that they need to detect smells. They use these whilst still in the womb to become familiar with the mother’s scent.

Babies have been shown to react to music as early as 16 weeks. Researchers at the Instituto Marques in Barcelona, Spain have shown that babies react to in utero music by opening and closing their mouths and moving their tongues.

The researchers of this study suggest the babies could actually be ‘singing along’ to the music!

Well, not exactly. But they do think the babies are showing vocalisation movements in the womb to help stimulate language which will help them develop once they’ve been born.


What does the research mean?

Progressions in technology is giving us an insight into the womb.

face4Image taken from American Optometric Association

Although this study is very interesting, it doesn’t tell us much about foetus development. The conditions are not similar to what would occur in real life, as human faces do not project into the womb as the dots in this study did.

However, the research does reiterate the fact that foetuses receive a lot of information from the outside world.

Technology is improving all the time, and it’s fascinating to unveil some secrets from the womb that were previously unknown.

Turns out, babies are a bit more clued up then we give them credit for!


The research: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)30580-8?_returnURL=http%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0960982217305808%3Fshowall%3Dtrue