The Potential for Conscious Experiences in the Developing Brain

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The Potential for Conscious Experiences in the Developing Brain

Does Consciousness begin before birth, during birth, or shortly after?

Infants, unable to articulate their thoughts, prompt an ongoing debate among researchers regarding the emergence of consciousness in early development. The study "Consciousness in the Cradle: onthe Emergence of Infant Experience," recently published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, led by Dr. Tim Bayne and me, explores the presence of conscious experience in newborns.

Unveiling the Mystery of Infant Consciousness

The infant's inability to communicate makes understanding their consciousness enigmatic. Dr. Tim Bayne emphasizes the challenge, stating, "Nearly everyone who has held a newborn infant has wondered what, if anything, it is like to be a baby." Our research delves into recent advances in consciousness science, applying adult consciousness markers to infants for the first time.

Integrating Sensory and Cognitive Responses

Our findings propose that, by birth, infants can integrate sensory and cognitive responses, forming coherent conscious experiences. Dr. Lorina Naci from Trinity College Dublin notes, "Newborns can understand the actions of others and plan their responses." The possibility arises that birth itself triggers consciousness, as infants adapt to the unpredictable external environment.

Exploring Consciousness Before Birth

While our study primarily focuses on birth, Dr. Julia Moser's work suggests consciousness might initiate weeks before birth. Third-trimester fetuses display the ability to learn auditory sequences, reacting with neural surprises to deviations. This challenges the perception that consciousness solely emerges at birth.

Seeing the World Through Infant Eyes

The study sheds light on the unique perspective of infant consciousness. Infants perceive the world differently, aware of fewer items than adults and taking longer to grasp their surroundings. However, they excel in processing diverse information, such as foreign language sounds, losing this ability as they grow older.

Unraveling the Enigma of Infant Dreams

The exact onset of human consciousness remains elusive. Our exploration extends to whether infants or fetuses might dream. Erik Hoel's overfitted brain hypothesis suggests dreams assist in generalization learning. While newborns are in the early stages of learning, the possibility of dreaming about maternal sounds and smells intrigues.


Q&A Section

Q1: When does the study propose consciousness emerges in infants?

Our study suggests that conscious experiences in infants may emergeby birth, with the potential for some level of consciousness even weeks before birth.

Q2: How does infant perception differ from adults?

Infants perceive the world differently, being aware of fewer items than adults but excelling in processing diverse information, such as foreign language sounds.

Q3: What is the significance of the study's findings?

The study provides valuable insights into the mystery of infant consciousness, guiding future research and raising clinical, ethical, and legal implications.


Explore the emergence of consciousness in infants, from potential pre-birth experiences to the unique way they perceive the world. Gain insights into the mysteries of infant consciousness through recent advancements in consciousness science.


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