A new study published in ‘Scientific Reports’ has shown that babies as young as four months old can understand how their bodies interact with the space around them. Researchers at the University of Birmingham BabyLab conducted a study in which babies were shown a ball on a screen moving towards or away from them while their brain activity was measured. When the ball was closest to them on the screen, the babies were presented with a “touch” (a small vibration) on their hands.
The findings of the study indicate that in the first months of life, babies show increased somatosensory brain activity when a touch is preceded by an object moving toward them. This means that babies can sense the space around them and understand how their bodies interact with that space, referred to as peripersonal space. According to Giulia Orioli, a psychology researcher at the University of Birmingham, this ability is crucial for developing a sense of self-awareness and body position in infants.
In addition, the researchers found that in eight-month-old babies, when the touch on their hand was preceded by the ball on the screen moving away from them, the babies’ brain activity showed signs that they were surprised. This suggests that as babies progress through their first year of life, their brains build a more sophisticated awareness of how their body exists in the space around them.
The researchers hope to conduct further studies with younger and older participants to shed light on the types of brain activity that babies are developing towards. They also hope to see if there are early signs of these multisensory abilities in newborn babies. If this is true, it could be that the origins of human consciousness are rooted in our ability to feel our bodies in space from an early age.