A new study from British researchers comes with surprising results and claims about fetuses and their time spent in the womb. The scientists state that 34-week-old fetuses were more likely to focus on a face-like pattern than on anything else. This could turn out to be an important step in understanding the development of human sight even in its earliest stages.
Previous research revealed that a fetus could respond to sounds, for example, its parents’ voice or even music. But scientists were unable to determine how much they could actually see.
“Vision really was the last of the sensory systems for us to understand. And that’s because, until now, we haven’t able to look at vision,” stated Vincent Reid.
He is the leader of this new research and a Professor of Psychology at the Lancaster University.
Fetuses Can Follow Face-Like Patterns of Light
Reid and his colleagues based their study on a commonly observed fact: a newborn baby’s fascination with faces. As the scientist wondered whether this started, or not, in the womb, he decided to test this claim.
Together with his team, Reid developed a primitive representation of a face. They called this a “face-like” pattern, as it was not a face, but it featured the same parameters.
Previous research showed that while in the third semester, fetuses can start seeing red light. So the team shined its face patterns with help from three dots of such light. These were projected on the abdomen of 39 women, and the fetuses’ real-time reaction was followed with help from ultrasound technology.
The researchers moved around the light, and also projected both face-like patterns and one that did not resemble it. In its paper, the team claims that the fetuses appeared to follow the first pattern longer and more frequently when compared to the one without a resemblance.
Although the results were not largely applicable, scientists are still calling this finding “noteworthy”. The team warns against shining bright light on an expecting mother’s belly to test the theory. They also point out that babies can’t recognize their mothers’ faces instantly, as they don’t see it.
Nonetheless, the research results, available in the journal Current Biology, are still impressive. They could offer new details as to the starting point at which the brain starts accumulating information, even push it back to earlier on.
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