An infant's fascination with faces is already evident in the womb, a new study contends.
Young babies pay more attention to faces than to other objects. But, the study authors said theirs is the first study to show that this preference begins before birth.
"We have shown the fetus can distinguish between different shapes, preferring to track face-like over non-face-like shapes," said study author Vincent Reid, a psychology professor at Lancaster University in England.
The investigators projected light images through the uterine wall of dozens of pregnant women. They tracked the 34-week-old fetuses' responses with 4-D ultrasound. The fetuses were more likely to turn their heads to look at face-like images than at other shapes, according to the study. The results were published June 8 in the journal Current Biology.
"This preference has been recognized in babies for many decades, but until now, exploring fetal vision has not been attempted," Reid said in a journal news release.
Along with showing that babies' preferences for faces begins in the womb, the study also confirms that fetuses have enough light to see and have visual experiences in the womb, he and his colleagues said. However, pregnant mothers should not shine bright lights into their bellies, Reid said.
The March of Dimes has more on fetal development.
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