Unborn Babies Early Listeners

Source: The London Times, March 30

London … Three weeks after being born, babies heard music they heard before, when in the womb. Those that heard the music before ere soothed, suggesting they remembered the tune.

Unborn babies can hear and remember sounds in the womb at 20 weeks after conception, according to research in Britain. Fetal learning had been thought to start at 24 weeks, the legal limit on abortion in Britain, but scientists Sunday claimed to show that organs in the upper brain developed earlier.

Pro-life groups hailed the finding as evidence of the humanity of a fetus at an age when it can still be legally aborted in Britain. Both sides are gearing up for a fight later this year over moves in Parliament to make the law even more pro-abortion.

Until now it was assumed that fetal awareness depended on the development of the cortex, the upper part of the brain, but behavioral psychologists Stephen Evans, from Keele University, and Richard Parncutt, from Bath University,indicated that memory and perception can develop in the thalamus, the lower part of the brain previously thought too primitive to store memory.

Ten pregnant women listened to cassettes of obscure Welsh and Devonshire folk music at a volume loud enough to be heard above a washing machine but not loud enough to annoy neighbors. Another five pregnant women acted as controls and were not given any music.

Three weeks after the babies were born, they were videoed listening to the music and their reactions, using "kick rates," were recorded. The less babies kick, the more soothed they are. Kick rates for the babies whose mothers had listened to music were on average below half that of those who had "heard" no music while in the womb, suggesting that fetuses can recognize and remember sounds at 20 weeks.

Evans said Sunday at the British Psychological Society annual conference in Brighton: "When you see the videos of the babies, there is a real contrast in their behavior. The babies who recognize the music look completely still and limp."

There were implications, also, for the way babies might be affected by what was happening around them while they were in the womb.

Evans said: "If the mother is involved in [an argument], the fetus is hearing that at the same time as the mother. The baby could be frightened of its father's voice, associating it with the unpleasant memory." He thought it might be a good idea for mothers to talk reassuringly to their unborn babies.

Paul Tully, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, said the research confirmed anecdotal evidence. "We take this as support for what we've been saying. It's another piece in the final jigsaw."

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