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Dev Psychobiol. 2018 Apr;60(3):265-277. doi: 10.1002/dev.21615. Epub 2018 Feb 14.

Responsiveness of rat fetuses to sibling motor activity: Communication in utero?

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Department of Psychology, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho.
Pacific Ethological Laboratories, Olympia, Washington.


Previous research has revealed that fetuses detect and respond to extrauterine stimuli such as maternal movement and speech, but little attention has been cast on how fetuses may directly influence and respond to each other in the womb. This study investigated whether motor activity of E20 rat fetuses influenced the behavior of siblings in utero. Three experiments showed that; (a) contiguous siblings expressed a higher frequency of synchronized movement than noncontiguous siblings; (b) fetuses that lay between two siblings immobilized with curare showed less movement relative to fetuses between saline or uninjected controls; and (c) fetuses between two siblings behaviorally activated by the opioid agonist U50,488 also showed less activity and specific behavioral changes compared to controls. Our findings suggest that rat fetuses are directly impacted by sibling motor activity, and thus that a rudimentary form of communication between siblings may influence the development of fetuses in utero.


Rattus norvegicus; fetal behavior; motor development; sibling effects; somatosensation

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