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The Boston Globe


Uncommon Knowledge

Learning words in the womb

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Talk clearly: the fetus is listening

Talking or singing to a pregnant woman’s belly may seem silly, but don’t laugh. Researchers instructed pregnant women to play a CD with several minutes of novel word sounds almost every day during the third trimester. After birth, the researchers measured the infants’ brain activity in response to those sounds and found enhanced activity in response to them, compared to a control group of infants who had not been trained on the sounds. The researchers conclude that “hearing a great deal of speech before birth may have positive effects, preparing the neural apparatus for the accurate analysis and discrimination of the fine acoustic features of speech.” On the other hand, “if a fetus is exposed to noisy or unstructured auditory environments at, for example, the workplace of the pregnant mother, this experience may cause an aberrant organization of the infant’s central auditory system structures, which may later affect speech perception and learning.”

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