New research suggests that the human preference for looking at faces over objects begins in the womb.
The Lancaster University study, published in Current Biology, involved projecting light through the uterine wall of pregnant mothers.
Researchers tested the responses of 39 fetuses at 34 weeks gestation to face-like patterns that moved across the babies’ field of vision. They observed their reactions using 4D ultrasound.
Researchers found that babies turned their heads to look at face-like projections over other shapes.
The findings suggest that there is no required experience or learning after birth that influences the preference for faces.
Study author, Professor Vincent Reid, told OT that it was well-established that babies favoured looking at faces, but until now fetal vision had not been explored.
“We have shown the fetus can distinguish between different shapes, preferring to track face-like over non-face-like shapes,” he explained.
Image credit: Adam Selwood