This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 10 table of contents.

Sound Perception in the Womb

DeCasper and Fifer (1980) provided evidence that babies recognize their mothers' voices shortly after birth. Using a nonnutritive nipple attached to a sensing apparatus, DeCasper and Fifer showed that newborns would suck more to hear a tape of their mother's voice compared to a tape of a stranger's voice. Because they were newborns, they must have become familiar with the mother's voice while still in the womb.

How did DeCasper and Fifer show that newborns recognized their mothers' voice? What did DeCasper and Spence find out?

In a follow-up study, DeCasper and Spence had 16 pregnant mothers read the Dr. Seuss book The Cat in the Hat to their fetuses twice a day for the last 6.5 weeks of pregnancy. Again they used the nonnutritive nipple to measure the babies' responses.

By the time the babies were born, DeCasper calculates, they had heard the story for about 5 hours. When the babies were born, DeCasper and Spence used their sucking test again. This time, the babies could suck to hear a tape recording of their mothers reading The Cat in the Hat or to hear the mothers reading another children's book, The King, the Mice, and the Cheese, which is also a poem but which has a very different meter. The babies sucked to hear The Cat in the Hat. (Kolata, 1984)

How did people respond to the news that babies could "learn in the womb"?

In what seems a parody of America's get-ahead culture, this research inspired educational courses for unborn babies! A California obstetrician named Rene Van de Carr founded a "Prenatal University" with a curriculum that started four months before birth. Parents used special phonelike devices strapped to the mother, to play the unborn baby sounds such as the alphabet or classical music.

Why did Governor Zell Miller of Georgia provide mothers of newborns with music tapes?

There is no evidence that specially arranged stimulation helps babies more than natural stimulation. However, there is some research evidence (from Gordon Shaw and colleagues at the University of California) that suggests exposure to complex, classical music might stimulate brain development in children. In response to this finding, Governor Zell Miller of Georgia arranged for Sony Corporation to donate tapes of classical music to mothers of newborns throughout the state in 1998, along with a brochure advertising its benefits. The program was already gone by 1999, so apparently only certain people from Georgia entering college around 2016 will have this advantage.

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