Study Finds Unborn Babies Respond to Mother’s Mood
Scientists have discovered that unborn babies respond to their mother’s mood while she is watching a movie, becoming quiet and still if the film is sad and very lively if the film is happy.
Dr. Kazuyuki Shinohara and colleagues in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior of Nagasaki University in Japan showed 10 pregnant volunteers a cheery 5-minute clip from the Julie Andrews musical The Sound of Music. Another 14 watched a tear-jerking 5 minutes from the 1979 Franco Zeffirelli film The Champ, in which a boy cries at the death of his father.
Each clip was sandwiched between two “neutral” film clips so that the team could measure any changes in fetal movements against a baseline.
The women listened to the movies using headphones to guarantee that only the effect of the mothers’ emotions was being measured and that their unborn babies were not being influenced by the movie’s soundtrack.
“Fetuses can hear by the last trimester,” explained Dr. Shinohara.
The team counted the number of arm, leg and whole body movements via ultrasound and found that during the happy film clip the unborn babies moved their arms significantly more than when the pregnant women watched the neutral clips.
However, the unborn babies of the women watching the sad clip moved their arms significantly less than normal.
“These findings suggest that induced emotions in pregnant women primarily affect arm movements of their fetuses, and that positive and negative emotions have the opposite effects on fetus movement,” Dr. Shinohara wrote in his report.
Outlining the motive for his research Dr. Shinohara said that the association between maternal psychological well-being during pregnancy and fetal welfare has recently attracted increasing attention.
“Chronic stress exposure for pregnant women affects fetal development, resulting in preterm birth and low birth weight. In addition to stress, persistent negative maternal emotions during pregnancy such as anxiety, depression, and anger also exert an influence on fetal and later development of a child,” Shinohara explained.
Shinohara concluded that while it was unclear what makes the unborn child of a happy mother “wave,” he suggests that sadness releases more of the “fight or flight” hormone epinephrine (adrenalin), which redirects blood away from the uterus and prepares muscles for exertion.
The study, titled “Fetal response to induced maternal emotions” was published by The Journal of Physiological Sciences in January, 2010.