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Flavor Sensing in Utero and Emerging Discriminative Behaviours in the Human Fetus

Ustun, Beyza; Reissland, Nadja; Covey, Judith; Schaal, Benoist; Blisset, Jacqueline

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Beyza Ustun
PGR Student Doctor of Philosophy

Benoist Schaal

Jacqueline Blisset


The diet of pregnant women exposes fetuses to a variety of flavors consisting of compound sensations involving smell, taste, and chemesthesis. The effects of such prenatal flavor exposure on chemosensory development have so far been measured only postnatally in human infants. Here, we report the first direct evidence of human fetal responsiveness to flavors transferred via maternal consumption of a single-dose capsule by measuring frame-by-frame fetal facial movements. Pregnant women and their fetuses based in the northeast of England were involved in this study from 32 to 36 weeks’ gestation. Fetuses exposed to carrot flavor (n = 35) showed “lip-corner puller” and “laughter-face gestalt” more frequently, whereas fetuses exposed to kale flavor (n = 34) showed more “upper-lip raiser,” “lower-lip depressor,” “lip stretch,” “lip presser,” and “cry-face gestalt” in comparison with the carrot group and a control group not exposed to any flavors (n = 30). The complexity of facial gestalts increased from 32 to 36 weeks in the kale condition, but not in the carrot condition. Findings of this study have important implications for understanding the earliest evidence for fetal abilities to sense and discriminate different flavors.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 16, 2022
Online Publication Date Sep 21, 2022
Publication Date 2022-10
Deposit Date May 13, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jan 31, 2023
Journal Psychological Science
Print ISSN 0956-7976
Electronic ISSN 1467-9280
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 33
Issue 10
Pages 1651-1663
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© The Author(s) 2022.

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