Mental health

Of the unborn child

It is said that childhood sets the foundations for the adult we become. Many of us can possibly look back and pinpoint certain events that have either diverted, directed, or refocused our life’s highway. Hindsight is always 20/20.

But what if it goes beyond that…What if the adult we become started to manifest itself before we were even born – while still in the womb. Why not? New mothers have often spoken about their new born having recognised ‘her’ voice.

Scientific research has established that the human brain develops in stages, as probably most of us already realise. Even before they are born, the foetus’s heartbeat and movements respond to loud noise[i]. It has been reported that the heart rate of the unborn child is elevated as well as their motor response to both music and voice.[ii]  So perhaps it is not so hard to imagine that certain tones of voice and loud arguments and so forth may well impact us before we enter this world. Studies do prove that many newborns recognise and react to their mother’s voice[iii]. So, it is reasonable to accept the premise that some problems may well have manifested themselves prior to birth. Research has determined that, prenatal exposure to music and voice actually does alter the foetal behaviour.’[iv] This in turn may set the blueprint for certain responses in the subconscious mind to be triggered by certain stimuli once the child is born. This may remain deep rooted into the subconscious throughout their lifetime. Some experiences do not need to be consciously remembered in order to activate a positive or negative response.

Echoic memory (which will be explored further in a future post), is part of the sensory memory specific to auditory cues. In other words – sounds that we hear. It appears that earlier research indicates that when a person is exposed to a series of identical ‘auditory stimuli, infrequent deviant stimuli’ will produce what is called ‘mismatch negativity (MMN)’ within the brain.[v] With ‘deviant’ stimuli referring to something outside the ‘usual’ or ‘acceptable norm’. It is presumed that this MMN is presumed to reflect the existence of a memory trace of the frequent stimulus at the moment of presentation of the infrequent stimulus. [vi]   

If this is the case, perhaps it is a matter of some mental health issues being established even before we are born.

The body is a complex vessel but not as complex as the brain.

The prefrontal cortex, the front part of our brain, is involved in a wide variety of complex behaviours. Kane and Engle’s[vii] research tell us that some of these behaviours include our ability to plan. They also write about the prefrontal cortex being responsible for majorly influencing development of personality along with impacting the working memory. Research has also found that high-level cognitive functions are performed within the frontal cortex.’[viii]

It is all very fascinating. The brain has been a topic of interest for centuries. It’s capabilities. The complexity. Trying to unravel the intricacies. Someday, perhaps, it will all be revealed.  

The echoic memory is one that holds interest. Could understanding this further possibly assist with preventing some of the potential mental health issues of current day society? This will be explored further in a future post which will aim to include input from scholars within sociology and psychology.


[i] White, Rob, and Johanna Wyn. 2013. Youth and Society. 3rd ed. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 

[ii] Noura H. Al‐Qahtani. 2005. “Foetal response to music and voice”.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 24 (5): 414 – 417. doi.org/10.1111/j.1479-828X.2005.00458.x

[iii] White, Rob, and Johanna Wyn. 2013. Youth and Society. 3rd ed. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 

[iv] Noura H. Al‐Qahtani. 2005. “Foetal response to music and voice”.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 24 (5): 414 – 417. doi.org/10.1111/j.1479-828X.2005.00458.x

[v] Winkler, István, Kalevi Reinikainen and Risto Näätänen. 1993. “Event-related brain potentials reflect traces of echoic memory in humans.” Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 53 (4): 443-449

[vi] Winkler, István, Kalevi Reinikainen and Risto Näätänen. 1993. “Event-related brain potentials reflect traces of echoic memory in humans.” Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 53 (4): 443-449

[vii] Kane & Engle, 2002 cited in White & Wyn, 2013: 267

[viii] Kane & Engle, 2002 cited in White & Wyn, 2013: 267

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