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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

3 hours ago - World

Report: U.S. calls for UN-led Afghan peace talks

Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington, D.C., in February. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a letter outlining a plan to accelerate peace talks with the Taliban that the U.S. is "considering" a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghan outlet TOLOnews first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: In the letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, also obtained by Western news outlets, Blinken expresses concern that the Taliban "could make rapid territorial gain" after an American military withdrawal, even with the continuation of U.S. financial aid, as he urges him to embrace his proposal.

Harry and Meghan accuse British royal family of racism

Photo: Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via Reuters

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle delivered a devastating indictment of the U.K. royal family in their conversation with Oprah Winfrey: Both said unnamed relatives had expressed concern about what the skin tone of their baby would be. And they accused "the firm" of character assassination and "perpetuating falsehoods."

Why it matters: An institution that thrives on myth now faces harsh reality. The explosive two-hour interview gave an unprecedented, unsparing window into the monarchy: Harry said his father and brother "are trapped," and Markle revealed that the the misery of being a working royal drove her to thoughts of suicide.

Updated 6 hours ago - Axios Twin Cities

In photos: Thousands rally for George Floyd ahead of Derek Chauvin's trial

Demonstrators on March 7 outside the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, charged with murdering George Floyd, will begin in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of protesters marched through Minneapolis' streets Sunday, urging justice for George Floyd on the eve of the start of former police officer Derek Chauvin's trial over the 46-year-old's death, per AFP.

The big picture: Chauvin faces charges for second-degree murder and manslaughter over Floyd's death last May, which ignited massive nationwide and global protests against racism and for police reform. His trial is due to start Monday, with jury selection procedures.