Re: rights for late-term and yet unborn human beings...

From: Dana Hedberg (
Date: Sat Jan 22 2000 - 13:43:11 MST

Zeb Haradon wrote:
> >
> >Mental development follows a timeline immediately upon conception I would
> >think.
> >
> >-dana
> >
> You would think wrongly, for the most part. Various experiments have shown
> that it's at a certain point after birth (sometimes as little as minutes),
> that a baby starts to develop certain cognitive skills, such as recognizing
> faces, or being able to tell when sound is in sync with image. The

I'm referring to total mental development (which I took to be your
meaning in your original post), not just specific cognitive abilities,
such as language acquisition, face recognition, etc.

> developing fetus is presumably going through biological developments which
> get it *ready* to being cognizing about the world, but how could the baby
> employ those skills until it actually had some raw experience to chew on?

You don't think it begins cognating while it's in the womb?? I'm sorry,
I don't think there's anything *that* magical about birth. In the womb,
the infant can experience a variety of different stimuli including: a
wide range of acoustics, temperature changes, physical sensation
(feedback from moving/kicking), etc. It also experiences much more
subtle, but definitely no less influential, events such has hormones and
other chemicals from the mother.

> The single thing I have heard which suggests any significant cognitive
> development before birth was that a fetus may begin to be able to
> distinguish voices in the womb - I got this information in a
> psycho-linguistics class where the professor mentioned it in passing as one
> of "the latest theories" in child language acquisition. These other
> experiments of psychological development, which shows them to occur at some
> point *after birth*, can be found in any introductory psychology text
> (they're worth reading for the ingenius methodology employed, if nothing
> else).

Unfortunately, rigorous testing of fetuses in a solid experimental
paradigm for specific, recognizable cognitive abilities has yet to be
done on an informative scale. Unlike the relative ease with which you
can conduct experiments on babies that have been born. Just because we
haven't been able to test for it, or have tested for it poorly, does not
mean it isn't happening. Just ask any expectant mother if they think
their baby evinces reactions corresponding to her voice. While hardly
scientific, the results of questions like that definitely good grounds
for the start of a scientific hypothesis. I'll be the first to admit
that developmental psychology wasn't really an area of interest for me,
but apparently I remembered a few things on my way to a psychology MA.

I think what happened here is I mistook your initial comment about
mental development to represent all of the cognitive processes
throughout the entire developmental process of a child, rather than just
those particular ones we have had the time, ability, inclination and
resources to assess after its birth. Much more wishy-washy: I think if
you were able to plot a graph of performance or progress on a number of
specific and labeled cognitive skills you would see a significant,
positive deviation from zero some time after conception but well before


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