Basic fetal and neonatal learning - an auditory habituation study
After children are born, we see them discovering the world. Every day, they see new objects and people, they hear new words and learn new associations. However, does the fact that we did not see them learning before birth mean that they were not learning at all?
Habituation is a technique which is often used to gain information concerning the maturation of the central nervous system in fetuses and newborns (Leader et al., 1984, Madison et al., 1986). It is a basic form of learning which refers to the response decline in reaction to stimuli which are presented repeatedly.
So far, most studies used vibro-acoustic stimulation and measured fetal movements as indicator of habituation. These studies showed differences between developmental stages of fetuses at the same gestational age; less developed fetuses needed more repetitions to habituate to stimuli (Morokuma et al., 2004). However until now the underlying brain processes are completely unknown.
While Sheridan et al. (2008) already used fMEG to show visual habituation in fetuses and newborns, the current fMEG study uses auditory stimulation to investigate the development of the central nervous system in fetuses and newborns. Our intention is to examine the gestational age at which fetusesÂ´ central nervous system is sufficiently developed to integrate and align auditory stimuli and to further observe the development of this ability during the first 3 month of life.
This information serves as an indicator for the time period when fetuses start to learn and the developmental trajectory of this basic form of learning.
Leader, L.S., Baillie, P., Martin, B., Molteno, C., Wynchank, S. (1984). Fetal responses to vibrotactile stimulation, a possible predictor of fetal and neonatal outcome. Aust NZ J Obstet Gynaecol, 24(4), 251-256.
Madison, L.S., Madison, J.K. & Adubato, S.A. (1986). Infant behavior and development in relation to fetal movement and habituation. Child Development, 57, 1475-1482.
Morokuma, S., Fukushima, K., Kawai, N., Tomonaga, M., Satoh, S. & Nakano, H. (2004). Fetal habituation correlates with functional brain development. Behavioural Brain Research, 153, 459-463.
Sheridan, C.J., Preissl, H., Siegel, E.R., Murphy, P., Ware, M., Lowery, C.L. & Eswaran, H. (2008). Neonatal and fetal response decreament of evoked responses - a MEG study. Clinical Neurophysiology, 119(4), 796-804.