VIENNA, April 4 ― Science concurs that lullabies can be beneficial for babies ― that's why parents have been singing them to their children since before they were born. Now, Austrian researchers have discovered that babies as young as a few weeks old are able to recognise nursery rhymes they heard when they were in their mother's womb.

Researchers from the University of Salzburg came to this understanding after conducting an experiment with around 60 pregnant women. The women had their babies listen to two German nursery rhymes through speakers placed on their abdomens, twice a day from the 34th week of pregnancy.

Two weeks after delivery, the newborns listened to one of the nursery rhymes they had encountered in utero, and another they had never heard before. During this phase of the experiment, the infants' brain activity was recorded so that the scientists could determine whether the babies were familiar with the nursery rhymes they were listening to, and to what extent they paid attention to them.


It appeared that babies had an easier time following the nursery rhymes they first listened to in the womb. The researchers found that unfamiliar nursery rhymes elicited a stronger electrical brain response in babies, suggesting that they put more cognitive effort into listening to them.

During the experiment, the academics also altered the rhythm of the nursery rhymes they played to the babies. They played them backwards, for example, and modified them so that they no longer contained high-frequency sounds. It turned out that the infants had to make more effort to follow the altered nursery rhymes than the original ones, suggesting that they are able to differentiate between the recordings.

The authors of this research, published on the pre-publication website bioRxiv, conclude that babies can recognize nursery rhymes they heard before they were born. They seem to be sensitive to musicality and prosody while still in their mother's womb, as if their brains were already equipped to differentiate one sound from another. Research by the Institut Marquès, dating from 2018, even claims that babies in utero have a preference for classical music, such as Mozart's A Little Night Music. ― ETX Studio