A 'hands-on' approach could help babies develop spatial awareness

by Peter Austin

Scientists from Goldsmiths, University of London have discovered that taking a 'hands-on' approach with young babies could help their spatial awareness.

A study published today found:

  • Changes in the way the brain processes touch in the first year of life
  • Babies start keeping track of their hands are when their arms move around from 8 months
  • Crossing the hands confuses the mind in young
  • The way we perceive touch in the outside world develops in the first year of life

The research, from Goldsmiths' InfantLab, suggested that babies' tactile experiences could be important for developing their sense of place in the world around them.

The InfantLab research team carried out their study on 66 babies aged from six to ten months old.

In the study, babies felt little tactile 'buzzes' on their hands first with their arms in an uncrossed position and then in a crossed position, while their was recorded through an EEG (electroencephalography) sensor net.

This is one of the first pieces of research to focus on the development of 'touch perception', which is crucial for investigating how babies learn to perceive how their own bodies fit into the world around them.

Dr Andy Bremner, InfantLab Director, explained: "We discovered that it takes time for babies to build up good mechanisms for perceiving how they fit into the outside world. Specifically, early on they do not appear to perceive the ways in which the body changes when their limbs, in this case their arms, move around."

Dr Silvia Rigato, researcher on the project, commented: "The vast majority of previous studies on infant perception has focussed on what babies perceive of a visual environment on a screen and out of reach, giving us a picture of what babies can do and understand when in couch potato mode."

"Our research has taken this a step further. As adults we need good maps of where our bodies and limbs are in order to be able to act and move around competently. It seems these take time to develop in the first year, and we didn't know that before."

More information: "The Neural Basis of Somatosensory Remapping Develops in Human Infancy," Silvia Rigato, Jannath Begum Ali, José van Velzen, Andrew J. Bremner. Current Biology. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.04.004

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