Warning message

This content is filtered. APPPAH membership is required for full access to journal articles.
-A +A
Publication Date: 
March, 1998
Page Count: 
Starting Page: 

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!


Blum, T. (1993). Prenatal intervention and human proto-development. In T. Blum (Ed.), Prenatal perception, learning, and bonding. Hong Kong: Leonardo.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment. New York: Basic Books.

Bower, T. G. R. (1989). The rational infant: Learning in infancy. San Francisco: Freeman.

Chamberlain, D. B. (1992). Is there intelligence before birth? Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal 6, 217-235.

Chamberlain, D. B. (1993). Prenatal intelligence. In T. Blum (Ed.), Prenatal perception, learning, and bonding. Hong Kong: Leonardo.

Chamberlain, D. B. (1994). The sentient prenate: what every parent should know. Preand Perinatal Psychology Journal 9(1), 9-31.

Chamberlain, D. B. (1998). The mind of your newborn baby. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Clements, M. (1977). Observation on certain aspects of neonatal behavior in response to auditory stimuli. Paper presented at the Fifth International Congress of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, Rome.

Cohen, M. (1988). A failure to observe habituation in the human neonate. Infant Behavior and Development 11, 74-76.

Darwin, C. (1877). A biographical sketch of an infint. Mind 2, 285-294.

DeCasper, A. & Prescott, P. (1984). Human newborn's perception of male voices: preference, discrimination, and reinforcing value. Developmental Psychobiology 17, 481-491.

Diamond, A. (1985). Development of the ability to use recall to guide action, as indicated by infants' performance on AB. Child Development 59, 523-27.

Emerson, W. (1989). Psychotherapy with infants. Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal 3, 190-217.

Fagan, J. (1984). Infant memory: history, current trends, relations to cognitive psychology In I. Moscovitch (Ed.), Infant memory-Its relation to normal and pathological memory in humans and other animals. New York: Plenum.

Forbes, H. S. & Forbes, H. B. (1927). Fetal sense reaction. Journal of Comparative Psychology 1, 353-55.

Freidman, S. (1972). Habituation and recovery and visual response in the alert human newborn. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 13, 339-49.

Gellrich, M. (1993). Development of music before birth and in early childhood. In T. Blum (Ed.), Prenatal perception, learning, and bonding. Hong Kong: Leonardo.

Harris, P. (1987). The development of search. In Salapatek & Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of infant perception. New York: Academic.

Hepper, P. (1988). Fetal "soap" addiction. Lancet (June 11), 1347-1348.

Kisilevsky, B. S. & Muir, D. (1991). Human fetal and subsequent newborn responses to sound and vibration. Infant Behavior and Development 14, 1-26.

Logan, B. (1991). Infant outcomes of a prenatal stimulation project. Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal 6, 7-31.

Mahler, M., Pine, F. & Bergman, A. (1975). The psychological birth of the human infant. New York: Basic Books.

Meltzoff, A. N. & Moore, M. K. (1977). Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science 198, 75-78.

Meltzoff, A. N. (1985). The roots of social and cognitive development: models of man's original nature. In T. Field & N. Fox (Eds.), Social perception in infants. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Meltzoff, A. N. (1990). Towards a development cognitive science: the implications of cross-modal matching and imitation for the development of representation and memory in infants. Annals of New York Academy of Sciences 608 (December).

Meltzoff, A. N. & Moore, M. (1978). Object permanence, imitation, and language development in infancy: toward a Neo-Piagetian perspective on communicative and cognitive development.

Minifie & L. Lloyd, (Eds.). Communicative and cognitive abilities-Early behavioral assessment. Baltimore: University Park.

Papousek, H. & Papousek, M. (1979). Early ontogeny of early human social interactions: its biological roots and social dimensions. In M. Cranach, K. Foppa, W. Lepenies & P. Ploog (Eds.), Human ethology: Claims and limits of a new discipline. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Peiper, A. (1925). Sinnesempfindungen des Kindes vor seiner Geburt. Monatsch. FKinderh. 29, 236.

Piaget, J. (1936). The origins of intelligence in children. New York: International Universities.

Piaget, J. (1978). The development of thought. New York: Viking.

Querleu, D., Renard, X. & Crepin, G. (1981). Perception auditive et reactivite foetale aux stimulations sonores. Journal of Gynecology, Obstetrics and Biological Reproduction 10, 307-314.

Ray, W. (1932). A preliminary report on a study of fetal conditioning. Child Development 3, 175-77,

Rovee-Collier, C. (1984). The ontology of learning and memory in human infancy. In R. Kail & N. Spear (Eds.), Comparative perspectives on the development of memory. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Sakabe, N., et al. (1969). Human fetal evoked response to acoustic stimulation. Acta Otolaryngologica Supp. 252.

Salk, L. (1962). Mother's heartbeat as an imprinting stimulus. Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences 252.

Sallenbach, W. B. (1991). Constructions toward a theoretical framework on prenatal cognition and bonding. The International Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Studies 3(3/4) 273-81.

Sallenbach, W. B. (1993). The intelligent prenate: paradigms in prenatal learning and bonding. In T. Blum (Ed.), Prenatal perception, learning, bonding (pp. 61-106). Hong Kong: Leonardo.

Sontag, W. & Wallace, R. (1939). The movement responses of the human fetus to sound stimulation. Child Development 6, 253-58.

Sophian, C. (1980). Habituation is not enough: novelty preference, search, and memory in infancy. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 26, 239-257.

Spelt, D. (1948). The conditioning of the human fetus in utero. Journal of Experimental Psychology 3, 338-346.

Stern, D. (1985). The interpersonal world of the infant. New York: Basic Books.

Tulving, E. (1987). Multiple memory systems and consciousness. Human Neurobiology 6, 67-80.

Van de Carr, R. (1988). Prenatal University: commitment to fetal-family bonding and the strengthening of the family unit as an educational institution. Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal 3, 87-102.

Verny, T. & Weintraub, P. (1991). Nurturing the unborn child. New York: Delacorte.

Weilman, H. (1985). The development of search abilities. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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.