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Early Auditory Learning May Begin in the Womb
Infants can recognize changes in speech heard before birth

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- The brain is capable of auditory learning before birth, which may have implications for language acquisition and disorders such as dyslexia, according to a study published online Aug. 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Starting from the 29th week of pregnancy, Eino Partanen, Ph.D., from the University of Helsinki, and colleagues studied 33 pregnant women in Finland, where half listened to recordings of a pseudoword (tatata), and the same word with a vowel change (tatota) or a pitch change (tatata). They note that pitch changes rarely occur in the middle of words in Finnish, while responses to vowel changes have been previously observed in newborns.

After birth, the researchers found that neural responsiveness (as assessed by electroencephalogram) to pitch changes was enhanced, and was significantly greater in infants with greater exposure to the recordings. This neural responsiveness also extended to changes in vowel intensity and duration not included in the recordings.

"Our findings indicate that prenatal experiences have a remarkable influence on the brain's auditory discrimination accuracy, which may support, for example, language acquisition during infancy," Partanen and colleagues conclude.

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