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First steps in experimentally exploring human visual and auditory development in utero

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The only way to understand the normative parameters of newborn perceptual, cognitive and social capacities is to examine the human fetus. Despite this, the amount of research focusing on the fetus is remarkably limited. In recent years, I have been seeking to harness research paradigms from the postnatal literature and employ them with prenatal populations. The challenge is to adapt these methods to fit with the constraints of working with the human fetus. Using high-quality 4D ultrasound, a model of how light interfaces with maternal tissue, and instruments featuring precision timing, I will discuss the challenges and opportunities of exploring fetal visual development with this approach. The initial work that has taken this approach has shown that the fetus prefers to track face-like over non-face-like shapes (Reid et al., 2017, Current Biology). I will also present new data exploring auditory emotion processing in the human fetus to illustrate the promise of combining experimental approaches and measuring behaviour via ultrasound. My thesis is that the previously unexplorable transition from fetus to infant is now eminently available for our investigation.

This talk is part of the Craik Club series.

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