Babies enjoy listening to African music in the womb, say scientists

A study carried out by Spanish researchers shows that we begin to develop our musical preferences before birth.

While it's long been known that babies in the womb are sensitive to music, scientists from the Institut Marquès in Barcelona, Spain have taken the experiments further to find out whether there are musical genres foetuses particularly enjoy.

The study showed that babies in the womb show a strong preference for composers like Mozart and Beethoven and traditionally African sounds — with one exception, the song Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

The researchers relied on movements of the foetuses' mouths and tongues to identify stimulation created by the music.

A specially designed speaker was used to emit sound to 300 foetuses between the 18th and 38th weeks of gestation.

The authors of the study played nearly 30 songs from three different musical styles: classical (Mozart, Beethoven), African traditional music (singing, drums), and pop (Shakira, Queen).

According to Dr Marisa López-Teijón, director of the Institut Marquès, the foetuses preferred melodies that have stood the Test of time, whether a Mozart serenade or the ancient sounds of African drums.

For example, Mozart's A Little Night Music K. 525 provoked movements of the mouth and tongue in 91% of foetuses past the sixth month of development.

At the Institut Marquès, in-utero sound perception is subject to much research. The centre now plans to analyse the reaction of foetuses to the sound of their parents' favourite soccer team anthems.