A study conducted by the University of Birmingham’s 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 their brain activity was measured.
When the ball on the screen was closest to them, 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 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, called peripersonal space.
Furthermore, researchers found that in eight-month-old babies, when a touch on their hand was preceded by a ball on the screen moving away from them, the babies’ brain activity showed signs of being surprised. This suggests that as babies progress through the 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 develop toward. They also hope to see if there are early signs of these multisensory abilities in newborn babies. If this is the case, it could be that the origin of human consciousness is rooted in the ability to sense the body in space.