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The influence of prenatal experience on behavioral and social development: The benefits and limitations of an animal model

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 August 2018

Robert Lickliter*
Florida International University
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Robert Lickliter, Department of Psychology, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33176; E-mail:


Prenatal experience is both a formative and a regulatory force in the process of development. As a result, birth is not an adequate starting point for explanations of behavioral development. However, surprisingly little is currently known regarding the role of prenatal experience in the emergence and facilitation of perceptual, cognitive, or social development. Our lack of knowledge in this area is due in part to the very restricted experimental manipulations possible with human fetuses. A comparative approach utilizing animal models provides an essential step in addressing this gap in our knowledge and providing testable predictions for studies with human fetuses, infants, and children. Further, animal-based comparative research serves to minimize the amount of exploratory research undertaken with human subjects and hone in on issues and research directions worthy of further research investment. In this article, I review selected animal-based research exploring how developmental influences during the prenatal period can guide and constrain subsequent behavioral and social development. I then discuss the importance of linking the prenatal environment to postnatal outcomes in terms of how psychologists conceptualize “innate” biases, preferences, and skills in the study of human development.

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The writing of this article was supported in part by National Science Foundation Grant BCS 1525371.


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