Researchers in the US have discovered that babies in the womb show evidence of learning by their 34th week, three weeks earlier than previously thought.
Lead researcher Charlene Krueger, also Associate professor at the University of Florida's College of Nursing, said the research is a positive breakthrough in discovering how early babies begin to learn, The study, published in the journal ''Infant Behavior and Development'', followed 32 women from their 28th through 38th weeks of pregnancy in an investigation to pinpoint when the ability to learn emerges.
Lead Researcher Charlene Krueger had the women repeat three times loud a set of 15-second nursery rhyme.
This activity was done twice a day for six weeks.
The selected rhyme was previously unknown to the mothers.
The foetuses heart rates were monitored at week 32, 33 and 34 as they listened to a recording of a female stranger recite the rhyme.
By the 34th week, Krueger said, the heart rates of the tested foetuses showed an overall slight decline while listening to the recording, compared with a control group of foetuses whose heart rates slightly accelerated while listening to a recording of a new nursery rhyme.
Krueger said a decelerating heartbeat has long been associated with a foetus recognizing something familiar, compared with an accelerated heartbeat response to a novel sound or experience.
At 38 weeks the researchers concluded the fetus could remember the rhythm of that nursery rhyme, which was four weeks after the mother stopped reciting the rhyme, the searchers say the findings have implications for the care of pre-term babies in neonatal units.
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