Babies learn how to anticipate touch while still in the womb, according to new research.
Psychologists from universities in Durham and Lancaster found that foetuses were able to predict, rather than simply react to, their own hand movements towards their mouths as they entered the later stages of gestation (pictured).
Researchers said the latest findings could improve understanding about babies, especially those born prematurely, their readiness to interact socially and their ability to calm themselves by sucking on their thumb or fingers.
The researchers carried out a total of 60 scans of 15 healthy foetuses at monthly intervals between 24 weeks' and 36 weeks' gestation. They used 4D imaging to create scans of life inside the womb.
The study, published in the journal 'Developmental Psychobiology', involved eight girls and seven boys.
Brian Francis, professor of social statistics at Lancaster, said of the discovery: "This effect is likely to be evolutionally determined, preparing the child for life outside the womb."