It takes months for newborns to grasp an object, years before they can draw and even longer for them to learn to write. With each new skill, kids reveal a possible preference for the use of one hand or other parts of the body. Yet, we still don't know if babies are born or if they "become" right-handed or left-handed while still in the womb.
To answer that question, Valentina Parma, researcher at the International School for Advanced Studies–SISSA of Trieste, and Professor Umberto Castiello of the University of Padua, conducted a study of 29 fetuses over the course of nine years, and the result was intriguing.
By analyzing the characteristics of several fetal movements and comparing predictions with preferences shown by the same boys and girls at age 9, researchers were able to determine—with remarkable accuracy—that a baby's hand preference and motor system is well-defined and highly sophisticated as early as 18 weeks of gestation.
The most notable part of analysis took place during 14, 18 and 22 weeks of gestation. Using 4-D ultrasound scan, scientists viewed three-dimensional imaging in real time and studied three types of movements: two of greater precision, directed to the eyes and mouth, and one aimed toward the uterine wall.
They noticed—beginning the 18th week of gestation—that fetuses would execute movements requiring precision significantly with what would become the preferred hand, thus confirming that motor systems are detectable in utero.
Not only that, but researchers believe that the accuracy of methods used for this study, which ranged between 89 and 100 percent, can help identify new markers at an early stage. If this is true, doctors may soon be able to intervene and offset development problems, such as such as depression, schizophrenia and autistic spectrum disorders.
We just might have to exercise a little patience until they figure it all out.