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Durham University

Department of Mathematical Sciences


Publication details

Reissland, N., Wood, R. , Einbeck, J. & Lane, A. (2020). Effects of maternal mental health on fetal visual preference for face-like compared to non-face like light stimulation. Early Human Development 151: 105227.

Author(s) from Durham


The question of whether humans react differentially to face-like versus non face-like light stimulation in the prenatal period has been much discussed, but to date has remained unresolved. In this feasibility study we have come closer to understanding fetal vision. In contrast to other studies examining fetal reactions to prenatal light stimulation, we controlled maternal factors known to affect fetal neurodevelopment; including maternal mental health and attachment. We found that, for fetuses at 33 weeks gestation, maternal mental health (anxiety and depression), and fetal growth factors (femur length) all had a significant effect on fetal reactivity to face-like compared to a non-face-like control light stimulus. This calls into question some previously published results. We discuss implications of these findings in terms of the development of fetal visual perception