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PLoS One. 2011 Feb 23;6(2):e17304. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017304.

A melodic contour repeatedly experienced by human near-term fetuses elicits a profound cardiac reaction one month after birth.

Author information

1
Laboratoire de Psychologie et Neuropsychologie Cognitives, CNRS-FRE 3292, Université Paris Descartes, Paris, France. carolyn.granier-deferre@parisdescartes.fr

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Human hearing develops progressively during the last trimester of gestation. Near-term fetuses can discriminate acoustic features, such as frequencies and spectra, and process complex auditory streams. Fetal and neonatal studies show that they can remember frequently recurring sounds. However, existing data can only show retention intervals up to several days after birth.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:

Here we show that auditory memories can last at least six weeks. Experimental fetuses were given precisely controlled exposure to a descending piano melody twice daily during the 35(th), 36(th), and 37(th) weeks of gestation. Six weeks later we assessed the cardiac responses of 25 exposed infants and 25 naive control infants, while in quiet sleep, to the descending melody and to an ascending control piano melody. The melodies had precisely inverse contours, but similar spectra, identical duration, tempo and rhythm, thus, almost identical amplitude envelopes. All infants displayed a significant heart rate change. In exposed infants, the descending melody evoked a cardiac deceleration that was twice larger than the decelerations elicited by the ascending melody and by both melodies in control infants.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE:

Thus, 3-weeks of prenatal exposure to a specific melodic contour affects infants 'auditory processing' or perception, i.e., impacts the autonomic nervous system at least six weeks later, when infants are 1-month old. Our results extend the retention interval over which a prenatally acquired memory of a specific sound stream can be observed from 3-4 days to six weeks. The long-term memory for the descending melody is interpreted in terms of enduring neurophysiological tuning and its significance for the developmental psychobiology of attention and perception, including early speech perception, is discussed.

PMID:
21383836
PMCID:
PMC3044162
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0017304
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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