Research Shows Babies Recognize Music in the Womb

ByMaggie Owens

July 12, 2001 -- Babies remember tunes they were played in the womb for as much as a year after birth, says a new study.

"All previous research showed that they could remember things for up to a month but there was no evidence to suggest that they would remember for up to a year," said Alexandra Lamont, a psychologist and lecturer at Britain's University of Leicester psychology department who conducted the study.

"I really wasn't expecting this."

Facing the Music

For the study, "How Music Heard in the Womb is Remembered by the Child," 12 expectant mothers were asked to choose a piece of music that they enjoyed and to play it to their babies for the three months before the birth.

When 11 of the children were one year old they were tested for recognition of the music by being placed in a room with two speakers. The study does not say why one baby was not tested.

New Ultrasound Gives Womb With a View

Each speaker played a piece of music: One was the prenatal music and the other was a piece of music chosen for its similarity in key, pace, and loudness. Atop each speaker was a ball with colored lights.

Researchers recorded the length of time the babies spent looking at each ball — implying they were listening to each piece of music.

Each baby, none of whom could speak, showed a clear preference for the music they had been exposed to while in the womb. A control group of children showed no preference for either piece of music.

Classical and Rock

The parents represented a wide spectrum and were from a variety of economic backgrounds. They have varying home situations with moms working, moms and dads working, nannies, and more.

As a result of their varying backgrounds the babies were exposed to many different types of music during their first year, including the pop group UB40, classical music by Vivaldi and Mozart, Jamaican-born reggae artist Ken Boothe, and British "boy band" Five.

Lamont said she initially allowed the babies a choice between the prenatal music and something completely different.

For instance, if the prenatal music was classical, the other option would be rock music.

She suspected that if the babies were able to pick out their own piece of music, then it would be much more likely that they would remember it in this circumstance.

When she discovered that after a year they could recognize their prenatal music even when offered a very similar choice, she was amazed.

Musical Marking

Lamont plans to continue her research with music and these same babies looking at whether the memories will persist in the years to come and how this memory may effect their musical preferences and abilities.

Lamont's research was broadcast this week in the United Kingdom on a British Broadcasting Corporation program called Child of Our Time, which followed several expectant mothers through their pregnancy and the first year of each child's life and looked at the development of cognitive skills, eating habits, and musical abilities, among other things.

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