Researchers from Lancaster University have found that unborn babies in the third trimester distinguish between face-like and non-face-like shapes.
Using 4D ultrasound technology, researchers were able to test whether or not facial preference develops while infants are in the womb.
Thirty-nine children were tested. Face-like shapes – three dots forming an inverted pyramid – and non-face-like shapes – three dots forming a pyramid – were shone into the womb. Researchers then tracked the foetuses’ head movements in response to these lights.
Babies were more likely to turn their heads in response to face-like shapes, indicating a visual preference for facial features.
Vincent Reid, a psychology professor at Lancaster University, said that the research team showed that, “the foetus can distinguish between different shapes.”
“This preference has been recognised in babies for many decades,” Reid said in an interview with News Medical Life Sciences, “but until now exploring foetal vision has not been attempted.”
These findings show that an infant’s visual preference for faces develops prenatally. The results also prove that foetal cognition can be studied.
Future research will be geared toward determining whether or not foetuses can discriminate numbers and quantities, according to News Medical Life Sciences.
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