A ‘touching sight’: How babies’ brains process…

A ‘touching sight’: How babies’ brains process touch builds foundations for learning:


These images illustrate two views of the left hemisphere of the brain. Image A shows the location where infants in the experiment processed a touch to the hand; image B shows where, in the brain, they processed a touch to the foot.Credit: UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences

Touch is the first of the five senses to develop, yet scientists know far less about the baby’s brain response to touch than to, say, the sight of mom’s face, or the sound of her voice.

Now, through the use of safe, new brain imaging techniques, University of Washington researchers provide one of the first looks inside the infant’s brain to show where the sense of touch is processed – not just when a baby feels a touch to the hand or foot, but when the baby sees an adult’s hand or foot being touched, as well.

The evidence of activity in the somatosensory cortex for both “felt touch” and “observed touch” shows that 7-month-old infants have already made a basic connection between “self” and “other,” which researchers say lays the groundwork for imitating and learning from the behavior of other people, and for empathizing with them.

The findings by the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) are published this week in Developmental Science.

Andrew N. Meltzoff, Rey R. Ramírez, Joni N. Saby, Eric Larson, Samu Taulu, Peter J. Marshall. Infant brain responses to felt and observed touch of hands and feet: an MEG study. Developmental Science, 2018; e12651 DOI: 10.1111/desc.12651