Fetal short-term memory found in 30-week-old fetuses

Jul 15, 2009

Memory probably begins during the prenatal period, but little is known about the exact timing or for how long memory lasts. Now in a new study from the Netherlands, scientists have found fetal short-term memory in fetuses at 30 weeks.

The study provides insights into fetal development and may help address and prevent abnormalities. Published in the July/August 2009 issue of the journal , it was conducted by researchers at Maastricht University Medical Centre and the University Medical Centre St. Radboud.

The scientists studied about 100 healthy pregnant Dutch women and their fetuses, measuring changes in how the fetus responds to repeated stimulation. After receiving a number of stimuli, the fetus no longer responds to the stimulus as observed by ultrasonography and the stimulus is then accepted as "safe." This change in response is called "habituation." In a second session, the fetus "remembers" the stimulus and the number of stimuli needed for the to habituate is then much smaller.

Based on their research, the scientists found the presence of fetal short-term memory of 10 minutes at 30 weeks. They determined this because a significantly lower number of stimuli was needed to reach habituation in a second session, which was performed 10 minutes after the first session. They also found that 34-week-old fetuses can store information and retrieve it four weeks later. Fetuses were tested at 30, 32, 34, and 36 weeks, and again at 38 weeks. The 34- and 36-week-old fetuses habituated much faster than the 38-week-old fetuses that had not been tested before. This implies that these fetuses have a memory of at least 4 weeks—the interval between the test at 34 weeks and that at 38 weeks.

"A better understanding of the normal development of the fetal central nervous system will lead to more insight into abnormalities, allowing prevention or extra care in the first years of life and, as a consequence, fewer problems in later life," according to the study's authors.

More information: Child Development, Vol. 80, Issue 4, Aspects of Fetal Learning and by Dirix, CEH, and Nijhuis, JG (Maastricht University Medical Centre), Jongsma, HW (University Medical Centre St. Radboud), and Hornstra, G (Maastricht University Medical Centre).

Source: Society for Research in Child Development (news : web)

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jsovine
not rated yet Jul 15, 2009
I believe this has implications for the pro-life/choice debate. I could assume abortion after short-term memory has formed would be unethical, especially since it is quite easy to abort at an earlier stage.

Between this article:

http://www.physor...288.html

"Derbyshire examined the neurological and psychological evidence to support a concept of fetal pain. He says he concluded that although still immature, the neural circuitry necessary for processing pain can be considered complete by 26 weeks' gestation."

This article:

http://www.physor...665.html

"Mathematician Karin Schwab and a team of neuroscientists at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, have discovered that very immature sheep fetuses can enter a dreaming sleep-like state weeks before the first rapid eye movements are seen."


And of course the present article. I think we can start putting together more stringent abortion laws.

Feel free to blow up in my face :)
Azpod
not rated yet Jul 15, 2009
Actually, this won't likely affect abortion laws much at all. (In the USA, at least.) It supports the timeline established in Roe v Wade, in that there are no constitutional protections for abortion in the third trimester and very limited protections for 2nd trimester abortions after the date of viability (late in the 2nd trimester.)

30 week fetuses are commonly viable. Viability is largely dependent on the weight of fetus. Any fetus under 500 grams (roughly 22 weeks) isn't considered viable. Between 22 weeks and 26 weeks a fetus MAY be viable. At 26 weeks (the start of the third trimester), most fetuses are viable.

The fact that fetuses can store short term memories at 30 weeks won't make a difference because such fetuses could survive outside of the womb anyway.
Soylent
not rated yet Jul 15, 2009
I believe this has implications for the pro-life/choice debate.


It has zero implications for the abortion debate. 30 weeks is 7 months; third trimester abortions are illegal unless there is a significant risk the mother will die or the fetus is not viable for one reason or another.

I could assume abortion after short-term memory has formed would be unethical, especially since it is quite easy to abort at an earlier stage.


Short-term memory has no ethical implications whatsoever. Flies have short-term memory and I can squash them with impunity.
Diotrephes
not rated yet Jul 16, 2009
Short-term memory has no ethical implications whatsoever. Flies have short-term memory and I can squash them with impunity.


You have short-term memory as well and I could squash you with impunity. What, does a jail sentence or execution make it wrong?

No, just highly undesirable.

You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?

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