Unborn Twins Interact in the Womb at 14 weeks Into Pregnancy

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 13, 2011   |   2:03PM   |   Padova, Italy

An Italian researcher is gaining more attention into his research published last October on twins and the relationships they develop — starting in the womb.

Umberto Castiello of the University of Padova, Italy published a report in the online journal Public Library of Science One (PLoS One) in October showing unborn babies have the ability to interact as early as 14 weeks into the pregnancy.

“We conclude that performance of movements towards the co-twin is not accidental: already starting from the 14th week of gestation twin fetuses execute movements specifically aimed at the co-twin,” Castiello’s team wrote.

They discovered unborn children have the ability to make directed contact with other human beings beginning before birth and they measured the movements of the babies towards each other and found the actions differed from incidental contact with each other or the uterine wall of their mother.

The Italian research team filmed video footage of twins at both 14 and 18 weeks along using a four-dimensional ultrasound, according to their report. The 14-week old twins touched each other head to head, arm to head, and head to arm. At the 18th week, they made more contact and, as the team wrote, began “spending up to 30 percent of their time reaching out and stroking their co-twin.”

Kinematic analyses described the movements as not reflexes but planned movements and were eventually very purposeful contacts to towards each others’ eye and mouth regions and that they took care when touching delicate parts of each other’s bodies. They were seen “caressing” the back of the sibling.

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“The results showed that the spatial and temporal characteristics of foetal movements were by no means uncoordinated, but depended on the goal of the different motor acts, suggesting a surprisingly advanced level of motor planning,” the researchers concluded. “We demonstrate that by the 14th week of gestation twin fetuses do not only display movements directed towards the uterine wall and self-directed movements, but also movements specifically aimed at the co-twin, the proportion of which increases between the 14th and 18th gestational week.”

Castiello explained that newborns appear to be already “wired” to interact socially with other humans soon after birth and he wanted to follow up on how, within only a few hours after birth, babies can imitate gestures of people around them and make other social interactions.

The ultrasound technique the researchers used allowed them to change the depth of visual field, the frame rate, and the sweep angle. The twin babies taped for 20 minutes each time, and the video recordings were digitized for offline analysis of the hand movements.

“Although various types of inter-twins contact have been demonstrated starting from the 11th week of gestation, no study has so far investigated the critical question whether intra-pair contact is the result of motor planning rather then the accidental outcome of spatial proximity,” they said. “Twin pregnancies provide a unique opportunity to investigate the social pre-wiring hypothesis.”

Citation: Umberto Castiello et al., “Wired to Be Social: The Ontogeny of Human Interaction.” PLoS ONE 5(10): e13199. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013199 https://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0013199