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The Human Fetus Preferentially Engages with Face-like Visual Stimuli

Reid, Vincent M.; Dunn, Kirsty; Young, Robert J.; Amu, Johnson; Donovan, Tim; Reissland, Nadja

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Vincent M. Reid

Kirsty Dunn

Robert J. Young

Johnson Amu

Tim Donovan


In the third trimester of pregnancy, the human fetus has the capacity to process perceptual information [1, 2, 3]. With advances in 4D ultrasound technology, detailed assessment of fetal behavior [4] is now possible. Furthermore, modeling of intrauterine conditions has indicated a substantially greater luminance within the uterus than previously thought [5]. Consequently, light conveying perceptual content could be projected through the uterine wall and perceived by the fetus, dependent on how light interfaces with maternal tissue. We do know that human infants at birth show a preference to engage with a top-heavy, face-like stimulus when contrasted with all other forms of stimuli [6, 7]. However, the viability of performing such an experiment based on visual stimuli projected through the uterine wall with fetal participants is not currently known. We examined fetal head turns to visually presented upright and inverted face-like stimuli. Here we show that the fetus in the third trimester of pregnancy is more likely to engage with upright configural stimuli when contrasted to inverted visual stimuli, in a manner similar to results with newborn participants. The current study suggests that postnatal experience is not required for this preference. In addition, we describe a new method whereby it is possible to deliver specific visual stimuli to the fetus. This new technique provides an important new pathway for the assessment of prenatal visual perceptual capacities.


Reid, V. M., Dunn, K., Young, R. J., Amu, J., Donovan, T., & Reissland, N. (2017). The Human Fetus Preferentially Engages with Face-like Visual Stimuli. Current Biology, 27(12), 1825-1828.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 12, 2017
Online Publication Date Jun 9, 2017
Publication Date Jun 19, 2017
Deposit Date Jun 9, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jun 9, 2017
Journal Current Biology
Print ISSN 0960-9822
Publisher Cell Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Issue 12
Pages 1825-1828


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