Foetal memory

Learning starts in the womb

Published: Thursday 15 February 2001

the human foetus does have a memory. This recently reported discovery could lead to new tests to identify and find solutions to health problems in the central nervous system of the foetus.

Jan Nijhuis, professor at the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University Hospital in Masstricht, the Netherlands, reports on the basis of his research that babies do have memory and can learn inside the womb.

Nijhuis beamed noise, resembling that of an electric toothbrush, at 25 foetuses between 37 and 40 weeks of age for one second every 30 seconds. Using ultrasound-based equipment, he watched the babies react to the noise. "After a few stimulations, most foetuses stopped reacting, which meant they were habituated," he says. Nijhuis then waited 10 minutes and beamed in the noise again. "The foetus recognised the stimulus and did not react." The tests were repeated after 24 hours. The foetus was habituated more rapidly than in the first test ( The Lancet , Vol 356, No 9237).

According to Nijhuis, this experiment shows that babies have short-term and long-term memory. In cases where the foetal development is not normal, these tests could also be used as diagnostic tools.

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