Updated 19 June 2017

Babies' fascination with faces may start in the womb

Researchers have shown that the foetus can distinguish between different shapes, preferring to track face-like over non-face-like shapes.


Babies love faces and prefer them over anything else in their sight during the first few weeks, even though they can't yet focus properly.

Now evidence has emerged that infants' fascination with faces develops in the womb, a new study contends.

Young babies pay more attention to faces than to other objects. But, the study authors said theirs is the first study to show that this preference begins before birth.

Ultrasound tracking

Interestingly, research shows that babies develop a memory of words they hear in the womb as well. It is a sign of very early language learning or adaptations to the sounds they hear before they are born.

Another Health24 article states that playing music to foetuses could boost their brain development.

"We have shown the foetus can distinguish between different shapes, preferring to track face-like over non-face-like shapes," said study author Vincent Reid, a psychology professor at Lancaster University in England.

The investigators projected light images through the uterine wall of dozens of pregnant women. They tracked the 34-week-old foetuses' responses with 4-D ultrasound.

Exploring foetal vision

The foetuses were more likely to turn their heads to look at face-like images than at other shapes, according to the study.

The results were published in the journal Current Biology.

"This preference has been recognised in babies for many decades, but until now exploring foetal vision has not been attempted," Reid said in a journal news release.

Along with showing that babies' preferences for faces begins in the womb, the study also confirms that foetuses have enough light to see and have visual experiences in the womb, he and his colleagues said.

Read more:

Mom's mood influences foetus

The lungs of the unborn baby

Do you know your foetus?


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