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June 18, 1982

Does the Fetus Think?

Author Affiliations

The Mount Sinai School of Medicine New York
Hahnemann Medical College Philadelphia

JAMA. 1982;247(23):3184-3185. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320480012009

To the Editor.—  The provocative question of whether the fetus is capable of what could be called "thought" is of interest to physicians, psychologists, and parents alike. Though we can never know with certainty the exact nature of the thought processes in the unborn child, there is some information we do have.At five months of gestation, when the basic body structures of the fetus are formed and many behavior patterns are already established, stimulation of different parts of the brain can evoke appropriate body responses. Pupura (The New York Times, May 9, 1975, p 30) claimed that the fetal brain begins to "live" at about 28 to 30 weeks, and, as important connections between nerve cells emerge, more complex and integrated activities can take place. Using ultrasound techniques, Birnholtz1 was even able to detect rapid eye movements, which are characteristic of an active dream state, in fetuses of 23