Jun 8, 2017

Our fascination with faces may start in the womb

Hussein Malla / AP

One of the first things every new parent learns is that babies love faces. Infants study them endlessly and prefer them over almost anything else they might see. Now, we have the first evidence that this preference for faces may, in fact, develop in the womb.

Researchers reported today in Current Biology that developing fetuses at 34 weeks consistently turned toward face-like images projected on the inside of the womb over other objects. The study is the first to show that it may, in fact, be possible to examine visual cognition of babies before they are born.

How they did it: The researchers projected light through the uterine walls of 39 mothers and displayed images of faces both upright and upside down. They then observed the fetuses' reactions using 4D ultrasound as the images moved across their field of vision. Developing babies turned their heads more often to look at the images of faces that were upright than those that were shown to them upside down. Advancements in ultrasound technology and the realization that light could project through uterine walls made the work possible.

Expert's voice: "There was the possibility that the fetus would find any shape interesting due to the novelty of the stimulus. 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," said Vincent Reid from Lancaster University who was a co-author of the study.

Go deeper

Updated 1 min ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 5,851,494 — Total deaths: 362,238 — Total recoveries — 2,445,181Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 1,729,185 — Total deaths: 101,706 — Total recoveries: 399,991 — Total tested: 15,646,041Map.
  3. 2020: North Carolina asks RNC if convention will honor Trump's wish for no masks or social distancing.
  4. Public health: Hydroxychloroquine prescription fills exploded in March —How the U.S. might distribute a vaccine.
  5. Transportation: National mobility keeps rising as more states reopen economies.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Saying goodbye to U.S. megacities.

Obama on George Floyd's death: "This shouldn't be 'normal'"

Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images for EIF & XQ

Former President Obama said in a statement Friday that the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, "shouldn't be 'normal' in 2020 America."

What he's saying: "[W]e have to remember that for millions of Americans being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly 'normal' — whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or watching birds in a park."

Trump's big, empty beef with Twitter

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump finally acted on his now year-old threat to take action against social media platforms for alleged bias against conservatives. But so far, according to experts in both government and the industry, the threat looks mostly empty.

Driving the news: Trump escalated his war on Twitter Friday morning, tweeting repeatedly that the company needs to be regulated after it overnight added a warning label to a tweet of his calling for the military to start shooting looters, which violated Twitter’s rules against glorifying violence.