In a pilot study, 34 fetuses were stimulated daily with a maternal spoken nursery rhyme from week 34 of gestation onward and re-exposed two and five weeks after birth to this familiar, as well as to an unfamiliar rhyme, both spoken with the maternal and an unfamiliar female voice. During auditory stimulation, newborns were continuously monitored with polysomnography using video-monitored hd
EEG. Afterward, changes in sleep–wake-state proportions during familiar and unfamiliar voice stimulation were analyzed. Our preliminary results demonstrate a general calming effect of auditory stimulation exclusively in infants who were prenatally “familiarized” with a spoken nursery rhyme, as evidenced by less waking states, more time spent in quiet (deep) sleep, and lower heartrates. A stimulation naïve group, on the other hand, demonstrated no such effects. Stimulus-specific effects related to the familiarity of the prenatally replayed voice or rhyme were not evident in newborns. Together, these results suggest “fetal learning” at a basic level and point to a familiarization with auditory stimuli prior to birth, which is evident in the first weeks of life in behavioral states and heartrate physiology of the newborn.
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