A study published in ‘Scientific Reports’ has shown that babies as young as four months old can sense how their bodies interact with the space around them. Researchers at the University of Birmingham BabyLab conducted the study by showing a ball on a screen moving towards or away from the babies 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.
The findings suggest that babies show increased somatosensory brain activity when a touch is preceded by an object moving towards them, indicating that they can sense peripersonal space – how their bodies exist in the space around them. The researchers also found that eight-month-old babies showed signs of surprise when the touch on their hand was preceded by the ball on the screen moving away from them, suggesting that as they progress through their first year of life, their brains build a more sophisticated awareness of how their body exists in space.
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 aim to see if there are early signs of multisensory abilities in newborns. If these abilities exist, it could mean that human consciousness has its roots in our ability to feel our body in space.