Learning vs Reflexes In the Womb
Learning begins in the womb for a baby, and by this I don’t mean that they’re just developing things such as reflexes. They learn to recognize the sound of their mother’s voice, they learn food preferences as well, and learn to share the same emotions as their mother. No one would deny that distinguishing their mother’s voice is a cognitive skill that requires learning from experience and repetition, therefore it’s knowledge. On the other hand a reflex is an action performed as a response to a stimulus without conscious thought. For example, if the baby’s heart rate slows at the sound of the mother’s voice and spikes in response to a very loud sound, these would be considered a reflexive response. I will use the to terms with care and prove that fetuses aren’t just developing reflexes they’re also learning.
Learning is defined as “The acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.” Reflex is defined as “An action that is performed as a response to a stimulus and without conscious thought.” These terms significantly differ, and proving that all the factors in my hypothesis are evidence of “learning” is the goal of my research. Providing evidence that fetuses memorize their mother’s voice, creating food preferences through their mom, and share the same distressed feelings as their mother are all learned before birth is the key to proving the fetal origins hypothesis.
Babies who recognize their mother’s voice in the womb and outside the womb is evidence of learning. The child has learned the mom’s voice vibration in the womb and so that when it is born it knows her voice because of listening and memorizing it. Memorization and recognizing sound is learning to a fetus and would not be considered a reflex. The difference between a reflex and learning is that reflexes occur naturally to the human, like moving their hand from a stove when something is hot. Learning, to humans, is knowing that the stove is hot because there is a flame which I associate being the agent of burning and I do not touch it so I won’t get hurt again. Babies gain their reflexes through learning, they aren’t born with the reflexes of knowing voices and knowing what food they like; they learn this from their mother while still unborn.
Food preference is definitely learned in the womb and is not a reflex. Studies by Manella show that women who drank 300 mL of carrot juice 4 days a week for 3 weeks during their third trimester teaches their baby to gravitate towards the taste of carrots when they are born. The babies whose mother drank the carrot juice showed that they enjoyed carrots through their happy expression and showing they want more carrot babyfood by reaching for it. This is a learned trait passed to the baby because they are taught that their mom likes carrots, or a certain other food such as junk food, so they must like that food as well.
Another thing that is learned in the womb is emotional distress, specifically PTSD that the mother develops while pregnant and the baby learns from the emotions their mom is undergoing. A study was conducted on women who survived the tragedy of 9/11 who also happened to be pregnant at the time of the incident. They tested positive for PTSD but researchers were interested in seeing if the now born baby also had signs of PTSD since their birth. It is estimated that there were about 1,700 pregnant women in New York during the attack, 38 of those women gave researchers their saliva to conduct a study. Their cortisol levels were significantly low and so were their childrens when tested a year later, as well as showing signs of great distress at just the age of one years old. This is evidence that the baby is learning from their mother before they are even born, whatever their mom feels they soak up that information like a sponge.
There is lots of evidence to argue that the fetus is learning. The question is now, do babies begin learning these traits in the womb or are they just reflexes to them when they are born? Differing the learning stages a fetus goes through in utero is my objective and defining learning and reflex and comparing them was crucial to this research in order to understand that the aspects of my hypothesis are in fact considered learning.
Fleming, A. (2014, April 8). How a child’s food preferences begin in the womb. Costandi, M. (2011, September 9).
Pregnant 9/11 survivors transmitted trauma to their children. Retrieved from The Guardian.