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J Perinatol. 2000 Dec;20(8 Pt 2):S37-44.

Evidence of transnatal auditory learning.

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Department of Psychology, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA 98447, USA.


There is converging evidence for fetal retention of auditory experience into early postnatal life, but critical tests with appropriate controls are rare due to methodological hurdles. Research has been conducted on newborn response to naturally occurring stimuli such as heartbeats, intrauterine recordings, pre- and postnatal versions of the maternal voice, father's voice, and unfamiliar voices. Postnatal experience cannot be ruled out as a possible explanation for many results. Only one critical prenatal exposure experiment with postnatal testing has been carried out and published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Interpretation of acoustic and linguistic information on intrauterine recordings suggests that the prosodic features of speech (pitch contours, rhythm, and stress) are available to the fetus. This is compatible with newborn responses and may contribute to language acquisition during the first year. There is no sound evidence that providing extra prenatal auditory stimulation benefits the developing child, and there are potential risks.

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