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Laterality. 2015;20(1):82-94. doi: 10.1080/1357650X.2014.920339. Epub 2014 Jun 3.

Laterality of foetal self-touch in relation to maternal stress.

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a Department of Psychology , Durham University , Durham , UK.


This longitudinal observational study investigated whether foetuses change their hand preference with gestational age, and also examined the effects of maternal stress on lateralized foetal self-touch. Following ethical approval, fifteen healthy foetuses (eight girls and seven boys) were scanned four times from 24 to 36 weeks gestation. Self-touch behaviours which resulted in a touch of the foetal face/head were coded in 60 scans for 10 min and analysed in terms of frequency of the foetuses using left and right hands to touch their face. The joint effects of foetal age, stress and sex on laterality were assessed. We modelled the proportion of right self-touches for each foetal scan using a generalized linear mixed model, taking account of the repeated measures design. There was substantial variability in hand preference between foetuses. However, there was no significant increase in the proportion of right-handed touches with foetal age. No sex differences in handedness were identified. However, maternally reported stress level was significantly positively related to foetal left-handed self-touches (odds ratio 0.915; p < .0001). This longitudinal study provides important new insights into the effect of recent maternal stress on foetal predominant hand use during self-touch.


Foetal age; Foetus; Handedness; Laterality; Maternal stress; Self-touch

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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