Babies Can "Learn" In The Womb

(See here) a BBC article that reports on a study that seems to show fetuses can learn in the womb.
Dr Cathelijne van Heteren from University Hospital Maastricht said the study showed foetuses had both short and long-term memories.

"We therefore conclude that foetuses have a short term memory of at least 10 minutes and a long-term memory of at least 24 hours."

It is important to note this study was conducted on late term, unborn babies, between 37 and 40 weeks old. While it does nothing to indicate at which point the fetus has a functioning brain, it does indicate that it is not only after the baby takes the "magical mystery tour" down the birth canal that the baby becomes a person.


Blogger Michael said...

Learning to respond to physical stimuli does not imply cognition or consciousness, which is what I think you are getting out of that study.

Also, these are babies between 37 to 40 weeks. They obviously have the capacity to learn since it is not uncommon for foetuses to deliver at this stage. The study is rather less profound than you think.

Michael Tam

6/23/2006 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...

Let me quote the article:

"Doctors in the Netherlands used sound to determine if an unborn baby could react, respond to and recognise a specific noise."


"According to the doctors, this showed the foetuses were able to remember the sound and "learn" it was harmless."

Evidently you have decided that reacting, responding, remembering and recognizing a specific sound doe not imply cognition, however I do not understand how you can draw such a conclusion. Evidently the babies were able to make the "judgement" the sound did not pose a threat to themselves, they "learned" to ignore it. Sounds like this behavior would fit pretty neatly into the definition of "cognition".

Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster. Cognition: the act or process of knowing including both awareness and judgment.

I myself made special note of the fact the experiment was conducted on babies between 37 and 40 weeks old.

6/24/2006 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

You can get "fatiguability" of complex reflex arcs in brain dead patients. That is, they seem to response less to repeated application of stimuli.

However, no "learning" at the level of the cerebrum is required (as they are brain dead).

As before, this does not imply cognition.

Michael Tam

6/24/2006 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...

When you are talking of brain dead people responding to stimuli are you talking of direct application of something like a prick with a needle or do they respond to sound?

Just wondering. Perhaps you know where I could go to read up on this for myself? Hopefully it would be something available via the internet.

6/25/2006 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Little David said...

The silence is deafening.

6/26/2006 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Patience is a virtue. ;-)

It isn't that easy finding layperson readable text available on the net.

Also, a correction. I used the term "brain dead" incorrectly (well, I used it in the vernacular). True brain death refers to death of both the cerebrum and brainstem.

You can maintain complex reflex arcs as long as you have a functioning brainstem. This is why patients with PVS still have apparent sleep-wake cycles. Even worse injury than PVS (e.g., let's say hypothetically we surgically remove the entire cerebrum) but where the brainstem is functioning, the person can still have apparent reflexes and responses to "noxious" stimuli (so that is to pain / loud noise / etc.).

Some natural examples of this would be anencephalic babies (i.e., those essentially born without a brain). We can obviously perform rather horrendous experiments on animals as well (which BTW, is where the majority of our knowledge of neurophysiology comes from).

See here on stimulation and the sorts of reflexes that occur in coma in total brain injury.

See here on an overview of the meaning of the various terms.

Something on decerebrate posturing and reflexes. Though it doesn't make it entirely clear in the article, it is called "decerebrate" because these are the sort of responses that you would get we took out your "cerebrum" (i.e., no brain, just brainstem).

All reflexes are fatiguable - meaning that lessen on repetition. That doesn't imply learning (insofar as the usual meaning with cognition and memory anyway).

Michael Tam

6/26/2006 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...

Thank you Michael,

I think you have provided me with the term with which I can search the internet. By this I mean anencephalic. I have tried to search the internet without having this exact word without success. I briefly entered this word into google, without reading the results, and think I have hit a goldmine.

My own interest is in the functioning of the brain apart from the brain stem, which is where I think the term you provided might yield results for me.

I'm trying to get back on the road tomorrow, so my reading will probably have to wait until I return home next month. I do not expect to become an expert on what I come across on the internet, however surely I will know more when I am done then I now know.

6/26/2006 09:42:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home