Baby monkeys 'scream' in the womb

A team from Princeton University asked how exactly early behavior develops.

babies and why babies can cry immediately after birth. The secret may lie in what happens before birth, scientists say.

“People tend to ignore the intrauterine perioddevelopment,” says Darshana Narayanan, a behavioral neuroscientist who conducted the study at Princeton University. “They think the baby is just vegetating and waiting to be born… [But] that’s where a lot of things start.”

Research shows, for example, that chicks are already learning to recognize the call of their species inside their eggs.

“A lot of things are developing much sooner than we thought.before,” says developmental psychobiologist Samantha Caruso-Peck. “In fact, we didn’t look at the production side of all this at all. Most of what we know is the auditory side."

Narayanan and his colleagues turned to monkeys,because the development of vocalizations in monkeys is similar to humans. Teams of two performed non-invasive ultrasound examinations of two monkeys nearly every day for four different pregnancies. According to Narayanan, a lot of marshmallows were used in the experiment. “They are ready to do anything for marshmallows,” adds the scientist.

Approximately on the 95th day of pregnancy, the face of the fetusappears for the first time in a visualization. The researchers noticed that each fetus moved its mouth and other parts of its face at the same time as its head. As the pregnancy progressed, the facial features and head began to move independently. The separation of these different motor regions appears to prepare the fetus for tasks such as feeding or vocalization.

Ultrasound of a monkey in the wombshow that the movements of the fetal face and mouth are similar to the contact call of an infant, suggesting that the fetus develops motor skills to scream before it is born and can make sound.

From the very beginning it was clear to researchers that the movements of the mouth were similar to the movements of a monkey during a contact call, differing in their duration and complexity.

"The contact call is so unique that you really can't confuse it with any of the other calls," says Princeton biologist Asif Gazanfar.

But to confirm this, Ghazanfar, Narayanan and theirthe team tracked the fetal jaw movements frame by frame to determine their duration. They also measured the number of "syllables" the fetus says by counting the number of movements separated by less than 500 milliseconds. The researchers then compared the fetal movements to the contact calls made by baby monkeys after birth. As the fetus approaches birth, its facial and mouth movements become more and more like those of infant contact — evidence the team says suggests that the fetus develops the ability to make this call after birth.

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