Babies Like Looking at Faces Before They're Even Born

New research indicates that babies show a fondness for human faces before they're even born. So that explains why little ones love looking at people!

Ultrasound fetus Simon Pedersen
You've probably noticed that babies tend to light up when they see human faces—and if recent research is any indication, they've been that way since before birth. Literally.

New research published in Current Biology indicates that babies may show a fondness for faces while they're still in the womb. Researchers showed 39 fetuses patterns of light resembling human faces, then watched the fetuses faces to observe their reactions. They showed them the pattern oriented in upright positions (so that they resembled faces) and also inverted, so they took on different shapes.

Here's the crazy part: Researchers found the babies, who were at 34 weeks gestation at the time of observation, turned their heads to look at the lights when they looked like faces. 

The idea that babies like looking at faces is nothing new, but this finding does represent a significant new idea: That we may have a way of understanding cognition and perspective in babies before they're even born. Up until this point, researchers haven't had the technology needed to perform these types of observations—but now they're able to use 4d ultrasound technology to get a picture of what's really going on inside those developing brains.

"There was the possibility that the fetus would find any shape interesting due to the novelty of the stimulus," study author Vincent Reid said in the study's release. "If this was the case, we would have seen no difference in how they responded to the upright and upside-down versions of the stimuli. But it turned out that they responded in a way that was very similar to infants."

While the research suggests babies can see light while they're in the womb, the researchers added that people shouldn't shine bright lights around a pregnant woman's stomach. 

This finding may serve as a jumping off point for researchers, who have found reason to believe they can gain a better sense of what babies perceive before birth. Pretty exciting stuff, right?