Humans - while still fetuses in the womb - explore their bodies as part of their development and even learn how to anticipate touch, according to new research.
High tech 4-dimensional scanning made the discovery possible. The findings are published in the journal Developmental Psychobiology.
"What we have observed are sequential events, which show maturation in the development of fetuses, which is the basis for life after birth," lead author Nadja Reissland, of the Department of Psychology at Durham University, said in a press release. "The findings could provide more information about when babies are ready to engage with their environment, especially if born prematurely."
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Reissland and her team conducted a total of 60 scans of 15 healthy fetuses at monthly intervals between 24-36 weeks of gestation.
During the earlier part of that developmental period, fetuses frequently touched the upper part and sides of their heads.
As time went on, the fetuses began to increasingly touch the lower, more sensitive, part of their faces, including their mouths.