Prenatal development and the phylogeny and ontogeny of music

Richard Parncutt

in Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology

Published in print December 2008 | ISBN: 9780199298457
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Prenatal development and the phylogeny and ontogeny of music

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology



This article focuses on musically relevant psychological aspects of prenatal development: the development of perception, cognition, and emotion; the relationships between them; and the musical and musicological implications of those relationships. It begins by surveying relevant foetal sensory abilities: hearing, the vestibular sense of balance and acceleration, and the proprioceptive sense of body orientation and movement. All those senses are relevant for musical development, since in all known cultures music is inseparable from bodily movement and gesture, whether real or implied. The article then considers what sounds and other stimuli are available to the foetus: what patterns are the earliest to be perceptually learnt? It examines psychological and philosophical issues of foetal attention, ‘consciousness’, learning, and memory. The article closes with speculations about the possible role of prenatal development in the phylogeny of musical behaviours.

Keywords: perception; cognition; emotion; foetal development; musical development; sounds; consciousness; learning; memory

Article.  6345 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology

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