Study shows newborn babies remember music they heard in the womb
PARIS, France, Tue Mar 8, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Scientists at Paris Descartes University have found that one-month-old babies remember music that was played to them in the third trimester of their mothers’ pregnancies.
Developmental psychobiologist Carolyn Granier-Deferre and her colleagues at the Department of Cognitive Neuropsychology played a descending piano melody twice daily during the 35th, 36th, and 37th weeks of gestation to the unborn children of 25 women. Twenty-five other women at the same stage of pregnancy were used as controls.
One month after birth, the descending melody and an ascending nine-note piano melody were played to both sets of babies while they were in quiet sleep, and the cardiac responses of the 25 exposed infants and 25 control infants were assessed.
The researchers reported that all infants displayed a significant heart rate change when they were exposed to the music.
However, the scientists observed that the heart rates of the 25 sleeping babies who had heard the notes before birth briefly slowed by about 12 beats a minute with the familiar descending melody.
The unfamiliar ascending nine-note piano melody played to the exposed infants resulted in a heart rate decrease of only five or six beats per minute.
The 25 control infants who had never heard either melody had the same five or six beats per minute heart rate decrease.
“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,” Dr. Granier-Deferre reported.
The researchers concluded that three 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 one 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 scientists said, and observed that “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.”
Dr. Granier-Deferre told the UK Daily Mail that the results of her research “suggest newborns pay more attention to what may be their mother’s melodic sounds than they will to those of other women.
“They also will pay more attention to other similar sounds, like female voices in general, than they will to even less similar sounds, like male voices.”
Dr. Granier-Deferre added the findings do not necessarily mean pregnant women should play music to their developing children.
“When foetuses are old enough to hear fairly well, about four to five weeks before birth, they will be exposed to all the sounds of the maternal environment,” she said. “There is no biological need for more auditory stimulation - more is not always better, especially during development.”
However, a fascinating example of the effects of music on pre-born children is that of world famous Canadian conductor Boris Brott.
Dr. Thomas Verny, in his book, “The Secret Life of the Unborn Child,” relates that when Mr. Brott was asked when he developed an interest in music, he replied, “before birth.”
Mr. Brott recounted that while learning new music pieces, he was surprised to find he already knew certain pieces by heart, particularly the viola parts. His mother, a viola player, was surprised initially, until she realized they were pieces that she had practiced while pregnant with him.
Dr. Verny’s research into the life of the unborn child has also found that the child in the womb “can see, hear, experience, taste, and, on a primitive level, even learn in utero. Most profoundly, he can feel - not with an adult’s sophistication, but feel nonetheless.”
Another aspect of Dr. Verny’s research may contradict Dr. Granier-Deferre’s statement that newborns pay less attention to “sounds - like male voices.”
“A child hears his father’s voice in utero,” Dr. Verny states, “and there is solid evidence that hearing that voice makes a big emotional difference. In cases where a man talked to his child in utero using short soothing words, the newborn was able to pick out his father’s voice in a room even in the first hour or two of life. More than pick out, he responds to it emotionally. If he is crying, for instance, he’ll stop. That familiar, soothing sound tells him he is safe.”
The full text of Dr. Granier-Deferre’s research, titled, “A Melodic Contour Repeatedly Experienced by Human Near-Term Fetuses Elicits a Profound Cardiac Reaction One Month after Birth” was published in the February 23 online journal, PLoS ONE, and is available here.