Do foetuses communicate? Foetal responses to interactive versus non-interactive maternal voice and touch: An exploratory analysis

Emese Nagy (Lead / Corresponding author), Paula Thompson, Lauren Mayor, Heather Doughty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
102 Downloads (Pure)


The main aim of this study was to uncover any evidence for communicative engagement in foetuses. Taking into consideration the continuity of development pre- and postnatally, the social responsiveness of the newborn baby and the development of sensorimotor competence in the foetus, it is plausible to assume that communicative readiness develops before birth. During the interactive and noninteractive applications of three conditions: the mother's voice, the touch of her abdomen and a control condition, foetuses’ (N = 12, 2–33 gestational weeks) behaviours were recorded through 4D scanning using Voluson S10 ultrasound and coded frame-by-frame. Foetuses displayed differential right-hand self-touch behaviours in response to the mother's touch. There was a reduction of this movement when the mother was touching her abdomen, compared to when the mother was talking or during the baseline conditions. There was also a reduction in right-hand touch responses during the interactive touch condition but not during interactive talk condition. A similar result was found with regards to right-hand face touch responses. Foetuses displayed a longer duration of mouth opening in the interactive talk condition compared to the noninteractive talk condition. During the first 60 s, foetuses showed a significant increase in sucking behaviours during the interactive touch condition, compared to all other conditions. This is the first study to compare interactive versus noninteractive engagement of the foetus. The findings of this study suggest that foetuses in the third trimester discriminate between interactive and non-interactive external stimuli and respond to contingent interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101562
Number of pages12
JournalInfant Behavior & Development
Early online date5 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Foetus
  • Communication
  • Behaviour
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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