Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Left-handed fetuses could show effects of maternal stress on unborn babies

Date:
June 2, 2014
Source:
Durham University
Summary:
Fetuses are more likely to show left-handed movements in the womb when their mothers are stressed, according to new research. Researchers say their findings are an indicator that maternal stress could have a temporary effect on unborn babies. However, the researchers emphasized that their study was not evidence that maternal stress led to fixed left-handedness in infants after birth. They said that some people might be genetically predisposed to being left-handed and that there are examples where right and left-handedness can switch throughout a person's life.

This is an image of a fetus at 32 weeks touching its face with its left hand.
Credit: Dr Nadja Reissland/Durham University

Fetuses are more likely to show left-handed movements in the womb when their mothers are stressed, according to new research.

Related Articles


Researchers at Durham and Lancaster universities say their findings are an indicator that maternal stress could have a temporary effect on unborn babies, adding that their research highlights the importance of reducing stress during pregnancy.

However, the researchers emphasized that their study was not evidence that maternal stress led to fixed left-handedness in infants after birth. They said that some people might be genetically predisposed to being left-handed and that there are examples where right and left-handedness can switch throughout a person's life.

Using 4d ultrasound scans, the researchers observed 57 scans of 15 healthy fetuses, recording 342 facial touches.

The fetuses were scanned at four different stages between 24 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. Researchers also asked the mothers of these babies how much stress they had experienced in the four weeks between each of the scans.

The researchers found that the more stress mothers reported, the more frequently fetuses touched their faces with their left hands. They added that a significant number of touches by the fetuses of stressed mothers were done with their left, rather than right hands -- therefore fetal touches of their own faces, indicated a left-handed tendency.

As right-handedness is more common in the general population, the researchers had expected to see more of a bias towards right-handed movements in the fetuses as they grew older. The high percentage of left-handed behaviour, observed only when mothers reported being stressed, led them to conclude that maternal stress has an effect on the lateral behaviour of the babies they scanned.

The findings are published in the journal Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition.

Lead author Dr Nadja Reissland, in Durham University's Department of Psychology, said: "Our research suggests that stressed mothers have fetuses who touch their face relatively more with their left hand.

"This suggests maternal stress could be having on effect on the child's behaviour in the womb and highlights the importance of reducing maternal stress in pregnancy.

"Such measures may include increased emphasis on stopping stressful work early, the inclusion of relaxation classes in pre-natal care and involvement of the whole family in the pre-natal period.

"While we observed a higher degree of left-handed behaviour in the fetuses of stressed mothers than had been expected, we are not saying that maternal stress leads to a child becoming left-handed after birth, as there could be a number of reasons for this.

"The research does suggest, however, that a fetus can detect when a mother is stressed and that it responds to this stress."

Professor Brian Francis, of Lancaster University, emphasised that the study also showed that overall preference for left or right hand varied considerably from scan to scan within each fetus, though fetuses showed more left-hand movements when mothers reported that they had experienced stress. He said: "Overall, there was no consistent handedness preference being shown by the fetuses, with most fetuses switching in preference at least once over the four scans."

The researchers added that while mothers were asked to report their stress levels in the four weeks between scans, in practice some might have reported the stress they were experiencing at the time of being surveyed.

Previous research has shown that maternal stress in pregnancy leads to increased levels of cortisol -- a hormone produced in response to stress -- in mothers that could lead to an altered preference for left-sided or right-sided behaviour in fetuses.

The current study did not assess the stress levels of fetuses and Dr Reissland said that future research could examine cortisol levels in fetuses to further determine the effect of stress on lateral behaviour.

Dr Reissland added that further research was also needed to look at whether or not maternal prenatal stress had longer-term effects on the development of infants and children after birth.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Nadja Reissland, Ezra Aydin, Brian Francis, Kendra Exley. Laterality of foetal self-touch in relation to maternal stress. Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1080/1357650X.2014.920339

Cite This Page:

Durham University. "Left-handed fetuses could show effects of maternal stress on unborn babies." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602204601.htm>.
Durham University. (2014, June 2). Left-handed fetuses could show effects of maternal stress on unborn babies. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602204601.htm
Durham University. "Left-handed fetuses could show effects of maternal stress on unborn babies." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602204601.htm (accessed November 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Kids React to Lammily, The Realistic Barbie Alternative

Kids React to Lammily, The Realistic Barbie Alternative

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) Artist Nickolay Lamm's Kickstarter-funded Lammily doll, based on his 'What Would Barbie Look Like as a Real Woman' project, is finally available to buy. Jen Markham explains how the doll's realistic proportions are going over with a test group of second-graders who are used to the impossible measurements of Barbie dolls. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trans-Fat Foods Now Linked To Poor Memory

Trans-Fat Foods Now Linked To Poor Memory

Newsy (Nov. 19, 2014) A study presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions shows a link between diets high in trans fats and decreased memory recall. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Creating Lifelong Love of Science and Math

Creating Lifelong Love of Science and Math

AP (Nov. 18, 2014) Kelly Mathews is a new mom on a mission to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math, and it starts with her own daughter. The Girl Scouts are doing their part, too, by promoting S.T.E.M. through badges and activities. (Nov. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Fun Improves Child Therapy in Poland

3D Fun Improves Child Therapy in Poland

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 17, 2014) Scientists in Poland are helping children with autism and Down's Syndrome better focus on therapeutic exercises by taking them out of their real world environment and into a specially-designed 3D cave in which their imagination can flourish. Jim Drury reports. Video provided by Reuters
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