© PSYCHOMEDIA - Imbasciati, Della Vedova, Manfredi - Mother-fetus auditory communication, mother-newborn relationship and psychological development of the child


Institute of Clinical Psychology, Faculty of Medicine
University of Brescia

Mother-fetus auditory communication, mother-newborn relationship
and psychological development of the child

Imbasciati, Della Vedova, Manfredi

Key Words: fetal psychology; fetal acoustic stimulation; communication mother-fetus; development of newborn

Present studies in developmental psychology agree on how psychological development is determined, in its quality and efficiency, less from biological factors as from early learning at the fetal stage and in the first months of life. The quality and efficiency of the psychological functions are in the final analysis what determine the destiny of a man and his ability to adapt socially. The main body of research is therefore concentrated on those psychic and social factors which determine, in the first stages of life, the "building" of the mental apparatus that will characterize the individual. Early learning experiences, considered as the prime elements in the progressive construction of mental structures and psychic functions, depend on the relationship of the fetus, then the newborn, with his "caregivers," and from his environmental experiences in which he is absorbed and which will affect the forming of his perceptive and communicative ability through dynamic interaction between genetic and environmental factors.

The documentation and research work on prenatal psychological life that we have been carrying out for several years at our Institute of Clinical Psychology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Brescia, is based on these assumptions. The main body of experimental evidence in literature concerning the development of fetal auditive function led our interest to the area of fetal auditory exposure and gave the necessary theoretical support to the research.

In this particular study we asked ourselves the question what could the effects have been of the acoustic stimulation quality (particularly linguistic, in its varied connotations and communicative value) received by the fetus as from the sixth month of pregnancy, on the following linguistic and cognitive development in the first eighteen months of life. To this purpose we created a questionnaire which, compiled by the pregnant women, allowed us to establish the type and the quantity of acoustic fetal exposure.

The first part of the questionnaire investigates the acoustic characteristics of the maternal working environment, of the domestic environment and the mother's listening to radio, music and television. The second part considers the communication between mother and fetus, and therefore the presence of deliberate linguistic communication from the mother to the child in the womb, looking for its frequency, manifestations and tone, the presence or not of the husband or other people in the communicative moment and the maternal perception of the fetus's ability to hear.

This questionnaire has been completed by the pregnant women starting from the sixth month of pregnancy, the date at which the presence of the fetal auditory function have been shown to be present. Two hundred and eleven pregnant women between the sixth and the eighth month of pregnancy agreed to participate in the research. It was explained to them that this was research on the influences of acoustic fetal exposure in pregnancy and that we asked if they would consent to observational meetings with the child once born. The research, in fact, proposed a continuos study over time through the observation of the baby and his relationship with the mother, and the use of tools to make an evaluation of the cognitive and communicative-linguistic development of the child in the first eighteen months of life.

The sample of children, whose mothers agreed to participate in the follow-up to the research consisted of 149 subjects (drop out rate 29%). With these children we made domiciliary observations at four, ten and eighteen months. The observation took place at the children's home to allow them to move in an environment where they could feel completely at ease; the mother or a close relative was always present. The observer was a psychologist properly trained in that specific area. During the observational sessions , which usually lasted for about one hour, we used the Uzgiris and Hunt development scales which show, by means of play, behaviours and strategies of children which presuppose the different developmental stages of underlying cognitive structures, according to the theories of mental development expressed by the work of J. Piaget. At ten and eighteen months, moreover, we asked the mothers to compile two questionnaires concerning the baby's communicative and linguistic development according to the experience that they had in their daily relationship with their child. The tools in this case were the Mac Arthur questionnaire, edited by the C.N.R., for an evaluation of the developmental communicative and linguistic stages reached by the child and an analogous one which provided a profile of the verbal and nonverbal communicative skills, edited by Camaioni and his collaborators, O.S. editions. The questionnaires, being quite complex, were compiled by the mothers which could choose whether do it in the presence of the experimenter or, in the following days, in collaboration with the husband.

At present the observational side of the research has been done and we are in the organization and elaboration of data phase. We propose to develop the following points : 1) To verify the quality and quantity of acoustic fetal exposure and of mother-fetus communication in our sample 2) To proceed in a critical review of the literature on the prenatal and neonatal psychological life referring to mother-fetus communication as seen in our sample 3) To verify the presence of correlations between the results of 1) and 2) and the physical, psychosomatic and psychological development of the first eighteen months of life, through the data of our clinical observations and the results effected with the standardized methods 4)To examine possible correlations between the auditory mother-fetus communication and the linguistic development of the child.

We will be thankful to whoever wants to send us bibliographical information on the psychological fetal life, and particularly on specific points of our research, as well as to inform us of any research in progress.

We are at anyone's disposal to divulge the information in our possession. Please forward to Dr. Della Vedova Anna and Dr. Manfredi Paola, Institute of Clinical Psychology, Faculty of Medicine, University of the Studies of Brescia, Valsabbina St., 19, Brescia 25123 or to this e-mail: teodora@iol.it

Dr. Della Vedova's main interest concerns the psychological life of the fetus and particularly cognitive fetal processes and learning.

Dr.Manfredi, the co-ordinator of the present research, is interested in the psychological fetal life in general and, in particular, in the mother-fetus communication and in the constituents of continuity between psychological life of the fetus and neonatal life.