Claira: A Case Study in Prenatal Learning
Publication Date:March 1998
Historically, most studies of prenatal learning have centered upon contingency reinforcements, habituation responses, and developmental outcomes. Very little research has examined the learning process during the prenatal period. This case study examines the behavioral responses of one prenate to an experimental curriculum. Significant movement responses are noted. The responses appear as an organized pattern which would imply that the prenate is capable of progressing from generality and abstraction, to specificity and discernment in the learning process. This learning process may well be unified, organized, and amodal in nature. Movement patterns imply that higher order variables help govern learning and are critical in the emergence of mental schema and regulations. Results from this study suggest that at the prenatal level, the beginning of cognitive schemes and regulations in mental operations exist. Responses during the prenatal period are compared to later developmental trends in infancy.
ABOUT THIS PAPER: William Sallenbach teaches developmental psychology, conducts prenatal research, creates research instruments for pre- and perinatal psychology, and is a staff child therapist at the Gateway Center in Ketchikan, Alaska. His doctoral research in Claremont, CA was on the rehabilitation of neglected and abused children. William understands the creative tension in developmental psychology as it deals with the revolutionary data increasingly provided by prenatal psychology. In a brief but elegant paper (1991), he begins work on an improved theoretical framework to describe prenatal cognition and bonding. He weaves new insights, demanded by empirical findings, into the traditional mechanistic scheme of developmental psychology to reveal the true sophistication of prenatal learning. To push beyond old boundaries, he finds good company in Alfred North Whitehead, Andrew Meltzoff, William Emerson, and Daniel Stern.
As he pursues this challenging subject in a longer paper (1993), he summons a wealth of clinical and experimental data to demonstrate the richness of the interactive learning process in which prenates and parents are engaged. He brings additional data from two instruments of his own, "The Prenatal Bonding and Temperament Outcomes Survey", a 60-item survey identifying 12 temperamental qualities in the first year of life that permits calculations of correlations between prenatal stress factors and temperament, and "Bonded Beginnings: A Tri-Level Curriculum for Prenatal and Postnatal Bonding and Learning" (unpublished).
The unique reprint which follows reports daily observations of his daughter, Claira, from week 34-36 in utero. The amazing findings give us a window not only on the sentience of a third trimester prenate but a rare look at current theories in prenatal psychology. In making this intimate investigation, Sallenbach follows in the footsteps of two noted fathers who learned greatly by observing their own children, Charles Darwin (1888) and Jean Piaget (1936). Of course, those fathers never dreamed of starting before birth!
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William B. Sallenbach, Ph.D.
Editor's note: Reprinting this article from an older source discovered certain bibliographic discrepancies that could not be rectified at this late date.
Reprinted from: Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal Vol. 9 (1994) No. 1, 33-56.
Address correspondence to the author at P.O. Box 8949, Ketchikan, AK 99901.