Fetal life has multisensory capacities before the brain is fully matured.
Recent years have seen increased exploration of the sensory development of the fetus. All five senses – taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight – have been demonstrated to appear functioning in the prenatal period.
In adults, the stimuli from each sensing organ in the body is relayed to different parts of the brain through various pathways. Sensory information is transmitted from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system.
Different sensory systems begin to exhibit function before birth. In particular, chemosensory systems, such as olfaction, display considerable plasticity in both morphological development and involvement in lasting behavioral changes.
First, a fetus becomes sensitive to touch, a capacity followed closely by the sense of movement. This is in turn followed by chemical sensory capabilities, which formulate the senses of taste and smell and then the senses of balance and hearing. Finally, a fetus begins to develop vision, which requires an additional few weeks after birth before it is fully functional.
Researches conducted over the past three decades has repeatedly confirmed the crucial role of early sensory experience in behavioral and cognitive development.
In fact, the maternal womb is an ideal, stimulating and interactive environment for human development. The uterus and placenta provides sensory stimulation in many modalities.
Therefore, a baby is born equipped with a general functional ability to comprehend reality. Its peripheral sensors are in place, while its brain is fully wired and ready to receive, distinguish, combine and interpret data. Within nine months, in the most challenging conditions imaginable, a human being tirelessly prepares itself for the amazing journey that awaits him.
William Smotherman and Scott Robinson are developmental psychobiologists, pioneers in the field of fetal behavioral development research. In Comparative studies of prenatal learning and behavior they have developed procedures, using an animal model (a fetal rat) to observe and quantify fetal behavior.
Their work is of direct relevance to the emerging field of behavioral perinatology with implications for understanding linkages between behavioral and biological mechanisms that may be significant to clinicians and researchers in the fields of obstetrics, maternal-fetal medicine and neonatology.
Some of the Medical members of Genoma staff have also been involved in clinical research covering early sensory development of the fetus, focusing on hearing and the interaction of this sense with development of the fetus and the baby once born. It has been demonstrated that the mother’s voice is recognized by the fetus before birth and that different types of music are perceived too.