Public Release: 

Listening to music before you're even born may boost your auditory system

Prenatal music exposure leads to long-lasting changes in the brain after birth

PLOS

Playing music while you're pregnant may influence your child's auditory system, according to new research published October 30th in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Eino Partanen and colleagues at the University of Helsinki.

It is difficult to know whether fetuses remember the sounds they heard before they are born. Playing Mozart for your baby during pregnancy is very popular, but is there any evidence that this has an effect on your child's brain?

The authors here show that long-term memory can indeed occur in the brain when fetuses are exposed to music before they are born. In their study, they asked pregnant mothers in a "learning group" to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" five times per week during the last trimester of their pregnancy, while another group played no music during the last trimester. The authors then measured the brain activity through the skin of the newborn babies soon after birth and again at four months of age to see if any learning had occurred. When infants heard the original melody as well as a modified melody with some of the notes changed, the authors found that brain activity of the learning group was much stronger to the original, unchanged notes, and this effect lasted even out to four months of age. The period from 27 weeks of gestation to six months of age is critical to the development of the auditory system, and the authors here have shown that prenatal exposure to musical melodies may influence brain development during this critical period. Partanen elaborates, "Even though we've previously shown that fetuses could learn minor details of speech, we did not know how long they could retain the information. These results show that babies are capable of learning at a very young age, and that the effects of the learning remain apparent in the brain for a long time."

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Citation: Partanen E, Kujala T, Tervaniemi M, Huotilainen M (2013) Prenatal Music Exposure Induces Long-Term Neural Effects. PLoS ONE 8(10): e78946. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078946

Financial Disclosure: This study was financially supported by the Academy of Finland (grants 128840, 1135304, and 1135161; http://www.aka.fi/eng), ERANET-NEURON (http://www.neuron-eranet.eu/) project Probing the Auditory Novelty System (PANS), the University of Helsinki (http://www.helsinki.fi/university/index.html) graduate school grant and the Finnish Cultural Foundation (http://www.skr.fi/en). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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