Champs Like Us, Baby We Were Born To Smile

My apologies to Bruce Springsteen for the above title. <GG>

British researchers at the University of Durham have evidence that our ability to laugh and smile begins in the womb:

Nadja Reissland from the University of Durham and her colleagues have shown the gradual appearance of several facial movements beginning in the second trimester that enable the formation of all the elements of laughter around the 30th week of pregnancy. The researchers have just published their findings in the PloS ONE journal.

“It is the first time, to my knowledge, that this technique to measure anatomical movements of facial expressions was applied in utero,” says Patrik Vuilleumier, director of Geneva University’s Neuroscience Center. “These results showing the appearance of human expressions before birth are both new and very interesting,” he adds.

In humans, the first facial movements appear in the 10th week after birth and become more and more complex with time. The researchers used an ultrasound camera to film two babies in their respective mother’s uterus. An analysis of the babies’ facial movements using American psychologist Paul Ekman’s “Facial Action Encoding System” allowed them to characterize the expressions linked to laughing and crying. In the 34th week of pregnancy, more than one month before birth, these two expressions were clearly recognizable.

“The movements of the face were spontaneous and could not have been triggered by the ultrasound because the babies were probably not even aware of it,” says Nadja Reissland. “In order to exclude any possibility of external influence, we decided to take this approach rather than studying pre-term babies.”

The smile observed by researchers was therefore not a reflexive response mimicking a human, which appears very quickly once the baby’s born, but rather the manifestation of an independent action.

The article, in English, is in it’s entirety is here.  The original is from Le Temps.

The Baltimore Catechism states:

Q: Why did God make us?
A:  God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness.

Are we surprised by this news? I think not. The researchers have shown us what we already know intrinsically: life in the womb is good! And we can see here as well the end of our existence foreshadowed in our earliest days: happiness. Not a happiness that the world gives, because this life, as Pope John Paul II writes in the Gospel of Life, is not the ultimate but rather the penultimate reality. Nonetheless, it remains a sacred reality entrusted to us, to be preserved with a sense of responsibility and brought to perfection in love and in the gift of ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters. (EV, #2).

And how do we reach that ultimate reality? Again, from the BC:

Q: What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?
A: To gain the happiness of heaven we mush know, love and serve God in this world.

The path is laid out before us, if we are but willing to walk it. Knowing, loving and serving God leads to the ultimate reality – happiness in Heaven with Him. While the way will also involve suffering – remember that the joy of the Resurrection was preceded by the stations of the Cross – God’s ultimate desire for us is happiness.

In his great writing on love comparing the present to eternity St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Now that’s something to smile about!

*image credit

Edit: H/T New Advent

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