A study conducted by the University of Birmingham BabyLab team has shown that babies as young as four months old can understand how their bodies interact with the space around them. The research, published in ‘Scientific Reports’, involved showing babies a ball on a screen moving towards or away from them while measuring their brain activity. When the ball was closest to them on the screen, they were presented with a “touch” (a small vibration) on their hands.
According to Giulia Orioli, a psychology researcher at the University of Birmingham, this study indicates that in the first months of life, babies show increased somatosensory brain activity when a touch is preceded by an object moving towards 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.
Furthermore, 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, their 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 toward. They also hope to see if there are early signs of these multisensory abilities in newborn babies. If this is indeed true, it could mean that human consciousness is rooted in our ability to feel our bodies in space.