Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Robert Lickliter

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Lorraine Bahrick

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Anthony Dick

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Martha Pelaez

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


contingency learning, preterm birth, prenatal sensory stimulation

Date of Defense



Preterm infants are exposed to high levels of modified early sensory experience in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Reports that preterm infants show deficits in contingency detection and learning when compared to full-term infants (Gekoski, Fagen, & Pearlman, 1984; Haley, Weinberg, & Grunau, 2006) suggest that their exposure to atypical amounts or types of sensory stimulation might contribute to deficits in these critical skills. Experimental modifications of sensory experience are severely limited with human fetuses and preterm infants, and previous studies with precocial bird embryos that develop in ovo have proven useful to assess the effects of modified perinatal sensory experience on subsequent perceptual and cognitive development. In the current study, I assessed whether increasing amounts of prenatal auditory or visual stimulation can interfere with quail neonates’ contingency detection and contingency learning in the days following hatching.

Results revealed that augmented prenatal visual stimulation prior to hatching does not disrupt the ability of bobwhite chicks to recognize and prefer information learned in a contingent fashion, whereas augmented prenatal auditory stimulation disrupted the ability of chicks to benefit from contingently presented information. These results suggest that specific types of augmented prenatal stimulation that embryos receive during late prenatal period can impair the ability to learn and remember contingently presented information. These results provide testable developmental hypotheses, with the goal of improving the developmental care and management of preterm neonates in the NICU setting.





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