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  • Face_Curr_Biology_V3.1.1_2

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  • Reid_Current_Biology_2017

    Final published version, 713 KB, PDF document

    Available under license: CC BY: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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The human fetus preferentially engages with face-like visual stimuli

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>19/06/2017
<mark>Journal</mark>Current Biology
Issue number12
Volume27
Number of pages4
Pages (from-to)1825-1828
Publication statusPublished
Early online date8/06/17
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

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, modelling 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 top-heavy configural stimuli when contrasted to bottom heavy 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.