Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Facial expressions develop before birth, researchers show

Date:
September 14, 2011
Source:
Lancaster University
Summary:
Babies in the womb develop a range of facial movements in such a way that it is possible to identify facial expressions such as laughter and crying. For the first time, a group of researchers was able to show that recognizable facial expressions develop before birth and that, as the pregnancy progresses from 24 to 36 weeks gestation, fetal facial movements become more complex.

33 week fetus touching face, with the umbilical cord visible.
Credit: Image courtesy of Lancaster University

Babies in the womb develop a range of facial movements in such a way that it is possible to identify facial expressions such as laughter and crying. For the first time, a group of researchers was able to show that recognisable facial expressions develop before birth and that, as the pregnancy progresses from 24 to 36 weeks gestation, fetal facial movements become more complex.

The group of researchers include Dr Nadja Reissland, a psychologist and Professor James Mason Director of Research in Medicine and Health of Durham University, Professor Brian Francis, Professor of social statistics at Lancaster University and Dr Karen Lincoln, consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, where the fetal scans are collected.

The group examined video-taped fetal facial movements obtained by 4D ultrasound machines in the later stages of pregnancy.

They recorded the same fetuses after they had been found to be healthy at their 20 week scan, several times between 24 and 36 weeks of gestation. They found that the movements of the fetal face become more complex over time.

Fetuses at the first stage of observation (24 weeks) were able to move one muscle in their face at a time. They would for example stretch their lips or open their mouth. By 35 weeks gestational age, fetuses combined a number of facial muscle movements, combining for example lip stretch, lowering of the eyebrows and deepening the nasolabial furrow, thereby turning isolated movements into recognisable and increasingly complex expressions.

Professor Brian Francis from the Department of Maths and Statistics at Lancaster University said: "This is a new and fascinating insight into the remarkable process of fetal development. This research has for the first time demonstrated that in healthy fetuses there is a developmental progression from simple to complex facial movements, preparing the fetus for life post birth."

Although the fetus cannot make any sounds, the development of facial expressions means that at birth, the baby has already developed the facial movements to accompany crying and laughing.

Dr Nadja Reissland from Durham University said: "We have found so much more than we expected. We knew that the baby blinks before birth and that some research has identified scowling before birth. However in this study for the first time we have developed a method of coding and analysis which allows us to objectively trace the increasing complexity of movements over time which results in recognisable facial expressions."

The researchers argue that these patterns of the motor movements are developed before the baby feels the emotion, just as the baby practises breathing movements in the uterus even before it has drawn a breath.

The discovery could help potentially identify health problems in utero, since there is a link between fetal behavioural patterns and the development of the fetal brain. Looking at differences between normal and abnormal fetal facial developments may indicate problems with brain development.

The researchers now plan to look at whether fetal facial movement might help differentiate between fetuses of mothers who smoke during pregnancy and non-smokers. They will also examine the development of facial expressions relating to anger, smiling and sadness.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Lancaster University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Nadja Reissland, Brian Francis, James Mason, Karen Lincoln. Do Facial Expressions Develop before Birth? PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (8): e24081 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024081

Cite This Page:

Lancaster University. "Facial expressions develop before birth, researchers show." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110913090927.htm>.
Lancaster University. (2011, September 14). Facial expressions develop before birth, researchers show. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110913090927.htm
Lancaster University. "Facial expressions develop before birth, researchers show." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110913090927.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A study suggests that parents become desensitized to violent movies as well as children, which leads them to allow their kids to view violent films. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) In a ruling attorneys for both sides agreed was a first of its kind, a Georgia appeals court said parents can be held liable for what kids put online. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins