The human fetus preferentially engages with face-like visual stimuli

Reid, Vincent M., Dunn, Kirsty, Young, Robert J., Amu, Johnson, Donovan, Tim ORCID logoORCID: and Reissland, Nadja (2017) The human fetus preferentially engages with face-like visual stimuli. Current Biology, 27 (12). pp. 1825-1828.

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In the third trimester of pregnancy, the human fetus has the capacity to process perceptual information [1, 2, 3]. With advances in 4D ultrasound technology, detailed assessment of fetal behavior [4] is now possible. Furthermore, modeling of intrauterine conditions has indicated a substantially greater luminance within the uterus than previously thought [5]. Consequently, light conveying perceptual content could be projected through the uterine wall and perceived by the fetus, dependent on how light interfaces with maternal tissue. We do know that human infants at birth show a preference to engage with a top-heavy, face-like stimulus when contrasted with all other forms of stimuli [6, 7]. However, the viability of performing such an experiment based on visual stimuli projected through the uterine wall with fetal participants is not currently known. We examined fetal head turns to visually presented upright and inverted face-like stimuli. Here we show that the fetus in the third trimester of pregnancy is more likely to engage with upright configural stimuli when contrasted to inverted visual stimuli, in a manner similar to results with newborn participants. The current study suggests that postnatal experience is not required for this preference. In addition, we describe a new method whereby it is possible to deliver specific visual stimuli to the fetus. This new technique provides an important new pathway for the assessment of prenatal visual perceptual capacities.

Item Type: Article
Journal / Publication Title: Current Biology
Publisher: Elsevier (Cell Press)
ISSN: 1879-0445
Departments: Academic Departments > Medical & Sport Sciences (MSS) > Health and Medical Sciences
Additional Information: Open Access funded by Economic and Social Research Council under a Creative Commons Attribution license. This article has been corrected since publication - see (
Depositing User: Tim Donovan
Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2017 08:52
Last Modified: 05 Jul 2021 16:16

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