Body representation differs in children and adults, study finds

(Medical Xpress)—Children's sense of having and owning a body differs from that of adults, indicating that our sense of physical self develops over time, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Many of our senses—vision, touch, and body orientation—come together to inform our perception of having and owning a body. Psychological scientist Dorothy Cowie of Goldsmiths, University of London and colleagues hypothesized that there might be age differences in how these processes come together. To test this , they relied on a well-known sensory called the " illusion."

In this illusion, the participant sits with their left hand on a table—but hidden from view. Instead of looking at her real left hand, she looks at a fake left hand. The experimenter sits across the table and strokes the participant's left hand with a paintbrush while also stroking the fake rubber hand. When the paintbrush strokes are matched so that they occur at the same time and in the same place on the two hands, the participant will often feel as if the fake hand is her own, and perceive the touch she feels as arising from the brush she sees stroking the fake hand.

Cowie and colleagues tested children of three different (4-5; 6-7; and 8-9 years old), as well as adult participants. After experiencing the stroking, the participants were asked to close their eyes and point with their right index finger under the table, so that it was directly underneath the left index finger of their actual hand.

Like adults, children were sensitive to whether the vision and touch cues given by stroking were matched on the real and fake hands. When they were matched, all participants experienced the rubber hand illusion, and when they were asked to point towards their real hand, the points drifted closer to the fake hand and farther away from their own hand.

Interestingly, children of all ages responded more strongly to the illusion than did adults. This shows that children rely more than adults on seeing their body in order to determine their sense of physical self; that reliance on vision created a strong bias toward the fake hand that they were looking at.

These findings indicate that there are two distinct processes underlying the sense of the that develop according to different timetables—the process driven by seeing touches on the hand develops early in childhood, while the process driven by seeing a hand in front of us doesn't fully develop until later in childhood.

Related Stories

Amputees can experience prosthetic hand as their own

Dec 11, 2008

Scientists at Karolinska Institutet and Lund University in Sweden have succeeded in inducing people with an amputated arm to experience a prosthetic rubber hand as belonging to their own body. The results can lead to the ...

Scientists create illusion of having 3 arms

Feb 23, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- How we experience our own bodies is a classical question in psychology and neuroscience. It has long been believed that our body image is limited by our innate body plan – in other words ...

Perceiving touch and your self outside of your body

Aug 05, 2009

When you feel you are being touched, usually someone or something is physically touching you and you perceive that your "self" is located in the same place as your body. In new research published in the open-access, peer-reviewed ...

Putting the body back into the mind of schizophrenia

Oct 31, 2011

A study using a procedure called the rubber hand illusion has found striking new evidence that people experiencing schizophrenia have a weakened sense of body ownership and has produced the first case of a ...

Right hand or left? How the brain solves a perceptual puzzle

Feb 06, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- When you see a picture of a hand, how do you know whether it’s a right or left hand? This “hand laterality” problem may seem obscure, but it reveals a lot about how the brain sorts out confusing ...

Recommended for you

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.