Babies are by far more intelligent than we had thought when it came to the learning ability. Their brains can start registering and learning from sources outside the womb even before they are born—that includes remembering words.
It could be intriguing to find out how babies within the womb could pick up words without learning a language. We are aware of the fact that babies can hear the sounds from external sources through their bump and this includes their mother’s voice.
According to Eino Partanen who is a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Helsinki, listening to external sound from inside the womb is similar to sounds when you keep a hand on your mouth and speak.
The studies conducted previously were based on the behavior of baby, which becomes tricky to decipher at times. The team of scientists led by Partanen went a step ahead by recording their brain activity using EEG sensors—electroencephalogram detects the electrical activity in the brain using electrodes that are attached to the baby’s head. The test was to figure of traces of memory from the womb.
The experiment worked based on a known concept. Partanen says that when we hear a sound, which gets repeated to us a number of times our brain registers a memory for it—this memory gets activated when we hear the same sound again. These memories can then be detected as brain waves, which is picked up by the electrodes of EEG sensors.
The pregnant mothers who participated in the experiment were given a recording, which they had to play several times in a week in the last few months of their pregnancy. Out of many existing words, made-up words like “tatata” were included in the list, which was then mixed with music. Variations were made in pitch and vowel sounds. On an average, the babies had heard the sounds as many as 25000 times by the time they were born.
After birth, babies who had heard the sounds showed neural activity in the brain signifying that they remembered the sound—they even recognized the change in pitch and vowel sound. Another group of babies who weren’t exposed to these sounds while in the womb didn’t show similar brain activity. As for those unborn babies who heard the recording for the longest time, the neural activity for recognition was the strongest.
The lead scientist concludes in his statement that fetus can learn a great deal in their womb than previously thought.
Christine Moon who is a Developmental psychologist Christine Moon at Pacific Lutheran University said that results from the studies are important as they can help break down the learning process in more detail.
However, Partanen contradicts saying that the experiment results don’t necessarily mean that the baby would learn a language by listening to the recordings when still in the womb. Moreover, exposing the baby to the sounds by keeping a speaker too close to the belly for longer duration could be unhealthy for them. It can affect their hearing and sleep cycles.
Partanen suggests that instead of letting healthy babies hear the recording, it would be preferable if it helps those with risks of developing dyslexia or auditory processing disorders—he is still not sure about the idea.
The research team included babies that were less than a month old and aren’t sure whether the babies will retain the memory of these recordings when they grow up.
There are still many things about the life in the womb that remain a mystery. It isn’t clear whether learning in the womb affects the language learning or other abilities as the child grows. Yet, parents, make sure you are careful in choosing the words before you speak—your baby is listening to you.