Babies have interestingly shown to prefer looking at faces more than objects, for reasons that have been a mystery to many scientists. However an interesting study was published on the 8th of June in which research concluded that the fetus develops this ability, preferring to look at faces rather than objects. Ultrasound technology was used to track the fetal behaviour, the scientists projected a stimuli in two orientations (“upright” and “inverted”), and the light was projected into the maternal abdomen. Using the 4D ultrasound scanner, they tracked the movement of the head of the fetus. The fetus was in the third trimester of pregnancy, 34 weeks into pregnancy, and the period in which the human fetus can process perceptual information. The studies showed that the fetuses were more likely to move their heads to follow the stimuli that appeared as face like shapes.
The study carried out by Vincent M.Reid of the Lancaster University in England, used the three dots that were in an inverted triangle in order to appear as the top two dots were the eyes and the bottom one for the mouth or nose. This essentially was the face down to its very minimum. The researchers carried out the study on 39 fetuses and displayed each type of triangle a total of five times on all fetuses. They concluded that of the 195 times the face like triangle was projected, a total of 40 head turns were made. In comparison when non-face like triangles were projected, only 14 head turns were counted. This lead to conclusion that fetuses were more likely to identify the face like shapes to the non-face like shapes.
Figure B was the image that was close to a face-like visual stimuli.
Some scientists have claimed that it is a too early to suggest that fetuses are that advanced at the stage. The use of triangle projections means that the image is different to what an actual face looks like, lacking the head shaped borders. Despite this, the study is opening doors for a very interesting theory on how facial perception is in fact encoded into the human sensory system. Among this, the ability to project images onto the womb and track the reaction of the fetus is an exciting prospect.