Fetal responsiveness to auditory and tactile stimulation

  • Viola Marx

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The aim of this thesis was to examine fetal behavioural responses to auditory and tactile stimulation. Responses were examined for the second- and third-trimester fetuses (second-trimester ≤ 27 gestational weeks (wGA), third- trimester >27 wGA), in both experiments, respectively.

Experiment 1 of this thesis examined fetal behavioural responses to the mother’s recorded and live voice, contrasting findings to an environmental sound and silent control conditions. Behavioural responses of 30 fetuses trimester (20-33 wGA, N = 13 in the 2nd and N = 17 in the 3rd trimester) Were examined in the following conditions were explored: (1) mother’s live, (2) and recorded voice, (3) an environmental sound, and (4) a silent control condition.

Findings showed the strongest responses to maternal sounds as well as differential responses between gestational age groups. Younger fetuses displayed an arousal response to maternal voice, whereas third-trimester fetuses displayed an orientating response.

The aim of Experiment 2 was to examine whether fetuses can differentiate between different human sources of tactile stimulation of the maternal abdomen. Behavioural responses of 28 fetuses (20-33 wGA, N = 15 in the 2nd and N = 13 in the 3rd trimester) were examined across four conditions: (1) mother’s, (2) father’s, and (3) stranger’s touch, as well as a (4) silent control condition. Differential responses to the tactile stimulation were found, especially in reaching of the uterine wall, and self- touch across the four conditions. Third- trimester fetuses touched the uterus wall for significantly longer than fetuses in the second-trimester. The strongest responses were found to the mother’s touch. Further differential responses were found between age groups, with third-trimester fetuses clearly differentiating between different sources of tactile stimulation, while second-trimester fetuses hardly showed differentiated responses.

It is suggested that maturational differences in both experiments are due to the fetal development of the central nervous system, and might indicate the emergence of a proprioceptive self-awareness by the 3rd trimester.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorEmese Nagy (Supervisor) & Josephine Ross (Supervisor)


  • Fetus
  • Fetal Psychology
  • Mother
  • Touch
  • Tactile
  • Ultrasound

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