Babies are not the blank slates we once thought they were. Research shows that babies begin learning while still in womb, conditioning themselves to their world before entering it. And this learning can arise from listening, a sense that can reach beyond the womb’s protective cocoon to sample the outside world.
The auditory system develops early on, with evidence of hearing by the 16th week of pregnancy. By the third trimester, babies can discern subtle complexities and variations in sounds from outside the womb. This is when listening-based learning begins.
Researchers have shown that music can stimulate the fetal brain, lying down long-term neural traces and influencing brain development.
Learning is an experience-dependent process, called plasticity, which is at its height in early development. When a new and meaningful stimulus occurs, the information is encoded, deconstructed, and imprinted in the brain. A neural trace is formed, creating a circuit in the brain, and the information is stored in a memory. Memory is intimately linked to learning because memories lay down a framework upon which new knowledge can be built. The more a neural circuit is stimulated, the stronger the framework becomes.
In 2013 researchers from the Universities of Helsinki and Jyväskylä decided to probe the extent of fetal learning