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Lullabies in the Womb Boost Baby Brains

Update Date: Oct 30, 2013 05:32 PM EDT

Playing music during pregnancy may boost the auditory system of unborn babies, a new study suggests.

While playing Mozart during pregnancy has become hugely popular, researchers said it has been difficult to know whether fetuses remember sounds they heard before they are born. However, new research reveals that playing music in the third trimester really does influence children's' auditory systems.

The latest study reveals that long-term memory really can occur in the brain of fetuses exposed to music.

For the study, researchers asked a group of pregnant women in a "learning group" to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" five times a week during the last trimester of their pregnancy and those in the other group to play no music during the last trimester.

Afterwards, researchers measured the brain activity through the skin of the newborn babies soon after birth and again at four months of age.

The findings revealed that babies in the "learning group" showed significantly stronger brain activity than babies in the no music group when they heard the original melody. However, there were no significant differences when babies heard the modified melody with some changed notes.

The study found that the stronger brain activity linked caused by the original melody lasted even out to four months of age.

Researchers explained that the period from 27 weeks of gestation to six months of age is critical to the development of the auditory system.  What's more, the latest study suggests that prenatal exposure to musical melodies may influence brain development during this critical period of auditory development.

"Even though we've previously shown that fetuses could learn minor details of speech, we did not know how long they could retain the information. These results show that babies are capable of learning at a very young age, and that the effects of the learning remain apparent in the brain for a long time," researcher Eino Partanen of the University of Helsinki said in a statement.

The findings are published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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