Send to

Choose Destination
Infant Behav Dev. 2014 May;37(2):162-73. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2013.12.007. Epub 2014 Feb 16.

Emergence and retention of learning in early fetal development.

Author information

University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, United States. Electronic address:
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, United States.


Prior research has demonstrated that the late-term fetus is capable of learning and then remembering a passage of speech for several days, but there are no data to describe the earliest emergence of learning a passage of speech, and thus, how long that learning could be remembered before birth. This study investigated these questions. Pregnant women began reciting or speaking a passage out loud (either Rhyme A or Rhyme B) when their fetuses were 28 weeks gestational age (GA) and continued to do so until their fetuses reached 34 weeks of age, at which time the recitations stopped. Fetuses' learning and memory of their rhyme were assessed at 28, 32, 33, 34, 36 and 38 weeks. The criterion for learning and memory was the occurrence of a stimulus-elicited heart rate deceleration following onset of a recording of the passage spoken by a female stranger. Detection of a sustained heart rate deceleration began to emerge by 34 weeks GA and was statistically evident at 38 weeks GA. Thus, fetuses begin to show evidence of learning by 34 weeks GA and, without any further exposure to it, are capable of remembering until just prior to birth. Further study using dose-response curves is needed in order to more fully understand how ongoing experience, in the context of ongoing development in the last trimester of pregnancy, affects learning and memory.


Attention; Development; Fetus; Learning; Memory; Speech

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center