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August 6th, 2009
30 Week Fetuses Possess Short Term Memory While In Mother’s Womb

A Dutch research team is set to release a report in Child Development that claims 30 week old fetuses develop short term memory capabilities.

The team collected a group of 93 Dutch pregnant women, and measured fetal responses to repeated vibroacoustic stimulation.  This stimulator leads to a combination of vibration and sound.   Study co-author Dr. Jan G Nijhuis, director of the Center for Genetics, Reproduction and Child Health at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands explains: “The stimuli were applied to the maternal abdomen above the fetal legs for a period of one second every 30 seconds.  We counted the number of stimuli after which the fetus doesn’t respond anymore.”

Fetus non-response is considered “habituated”, meaning it recognizes the stimulation as “safe.”  Habituation according to the researchers, is a form of learning and requires an intact nervous system.

During the study, fetuses ranging from 30 – 38 weeks’ gestation.  The youngest of the fetuses (30 weeks), displayed a short-term memory of 10 minutes, whereas, fetuses at 34 weeks gestation appeared able to remember information stored four weeks prior.

Nijhuis strongly believes that this study “is the next step into a better insight in the development of the fecal nervous system … [as] we aim to develop an ‘intra-uterine neurological examination’ which could then be used in fetuses at risk.”

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