G. Justus Hofmeyr's article "Fetal Education: A Lesson from the Past" (PPPJ, Winter 1990) raises several issues which I have either addressed previously or shall shortly-between these covers, Pre and Perinatal Psychology News, and the International Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Studies. Even so, while abdominal decompression's intelligence claim has been discredited by one study, parallel concerns about prenatal stimulation should be answered.
An admitted obstacle confronted in our pilot study was that of selfselection: in offering families my Cardiac Curriculum (curricularized variations in the maternal blood pulse) versus classical music, all subjects opted for the former because for fairness the prelearning thesis was presented prior-they understood it and so chose; had a placebo sound been utilized as a control, the family-child psychodynamics stemming from this alternative were a potential ethical dilemma we did not wish to confront. Hofmeyr may have recognized this problem by admitting "such studies are difficult and often impossible to mount." Nonetheless, since the group had not been weighted toward higher income nor education, and represented some ethnic diversity, this sample was deemed sufficient for an impartial first investigation.
Obviously, clinical trials require greater diversity and numbers, matched with controls; such project expansion is proceeding in stages (currently with 50 prelearners and 50 nonstimulated subjects paired for key variables) by evaluators independent of Prelearning Institute, the definitive results to be reported at both 1992 ISPPPM and 1993 PPPANA congresses; initial outcomes already appear highly positive. Another prelearning assessment is being conducted by the Children's Rehabilitation Center in Moscow, directed by Mikhail Lazarev, M.D., employing a classical music comparison, while a Down's syndrome mitigative effort of 100 prenates will commence this autumn through the Department of Psychology at Queen's University of Belfast, under Peter Hepper, Ph.D. We are also preparing for an extensive replication through a major American state university.
As for parental expectations, my own elicitating of data from the pilot study families noted a decided reluctance to assign performance where unwarranted: if a child had not attained the developmental milestone in question, parents steadfastly held to their objection; at no time was any report of precocity coaxable-quite the reverse. Time and again the caveat was heard: "We do not want a prodigy!" Conversely, when giftedness appeared, both professional characterization and lay tracking showed close congruency. It should be underscored that most parents expect much of their offspring, yet that desire alone (certainly manifest among the prelearning families) hardly insures the high scoring achieved consistently by prenatally stimulated children; though complementary, at some point the effects of bonding-for all its desirable virtues-become clearly distinguished from those benefits evoked by pattern-specific enrichment exercised during neurogenesis, before that massive but normative fetal brain cell dieoff which concludes the third trimester.
Inflated parental demands upon youth is a negative factor wherever encountered, however, depressed expectations are the other extreme; although our pilot study families are quite supportive of their children, they do not appear slavishly so-but this raises the last Hofmeyr point I wish to discuss. Merely reinforcing norms does not allow for what Oliver Sacks calls hyperfunction: were only status quo and deficit situations possible, evolution would not have brought us where we are. Prelearning represents a patently progressive intervention . . . which my reading of civilization finds is the human hallmark; mediocrity has never sufficed for what our species does best-exceed ourselves.
I agree with Hofmeyr that caution and prudence are desirable qualities of the scientific process, but so are vision as well as risk; that interplay between is the rightful subject of inquisitive discourse such as his and mine. …