How Does A Baby’s Brain React When He Or She Is Touched?
We’re all very concerned about giving importance to what even the youngest of babies in their infancy see and hear, but there is little thought given to their sense of touch. The fact of the matter is that their sense of touch is the first thing that a babies’ brain tends to develop – and that happens while they are still in the womb. By the time that they are born, their sense of touch is actually highly developed.
Dr. Meltzoff is the co-director for the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington. He conducted the research which he published in the journal Developmental Science. This study took a look at two month old babies and recorded the response of their brains based on the subtle tapping of different parts of their body.
He says that there is little knowledge about the way the infant human brain responds to the sense of touch at the young age but there is a lot of research that has been done on adult brains and the response they give according to their sense of touch. There should be more focus on the development of those neural maps that have been studied in adult brains. This is why the researchers conducting the study placed harmless electrode caps on the babies’ heads in order to record the brain activity.
The study was carried out at length and showed the distribution of all the electrical activity that goes on within the brain to clearly highlight which part of the brain is activated when the baby is tapped gently on different parts of the body. For instance, when the left hand of the baby was touched, there was activity on the right side of the brain. The area near the center of the brain was more active when the babies’ feet were touched. When the upper lip of the baby was touched, there was bilateral activity in the baby’s brain.
One of the most notable findings was the fact that a baby’s brain was most stimulated, when he/she was touched on the lips. This is an interesting response regarding a baby’s brain considering the fact that babies are mostly centered on sucking at that age, to meet their feedings. It is proof that even in a baby as young as a couple of months old, the sense of touch is not just developed well, but it also gives a robust response and is significantly organized.
Dr. Saby is a postdoctoral fellow for radiology at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. The has been conducting research on infant babies for the past decade but now that she has a child of her own, things seem a lot different to her.
When she touches the baby every time she is feeding her, Dr. Saby notes that there will be a response sent to her baby’s brain to represent that particular part of the brain. There is a constant firing of neurons which stimulates her body and mind. The stimulation is what is helping the baby’s brain develop and connect better with the body parts for more things than just the simple motor functions. Having done the research that she has and gaining a parent’s perspective through her own five month old daughter, Dr. Saby has a better understanding now of the study that she has been conducting.
Dr. Meltzoff says that since the sense of touch develops faster than any other sensation in the human body, a lot of the earliest social and emotional responses that a baby gives are through the sense of touch. Gaining a better understanding of how the sense of touch represents the earliest social and emotional interaction that babies have through their sense of touch can significantly help us to explain the basic groundwork for the social and emotional development of a child as they grow up.
For the youngest babies, according to Dr. Meltzoff, the sense of touch is what is telling them about themselves when they are alone, when they are touching their own face and when they are moving their hand. When they are opening or closing their hands, when they kick around their feet and those areas of the brain are active in a human baby, it can be considered as a preliminary form of babbling that a baby starts to develop.
The sense of self in an infant is primordial but it is definitely there. A baby might touch its lips and feel what we could translate as “I can touch my lips. This is me.” It’s a sort of exploration of their own body through the sense of touch.
The next stage should be to map out the body in a more complete manner and study the baby’s brain activity according to that. The development of the baby’s brain as behavioral changes occur with a growing age should also be taken note of. For instance, does the neural mapping tend to change to the feet when the baby learns how to walk or is the sense of touch and the neural mapping same from an earlier stage of the child’s development? When they start using their hands more specifically, does the representation of the brain activity for the sense of touch for hands change? Is there a more detailed mapping pattern now?
A theoretical explanation by Dr. Meltzoff is that a baby develops a representation of their own body and they utilize that same representation in order to process the information about other people’s bodies. Assuming that this theoretical statement has some sort of truth to it, the neurological representation of a baby for the self is going to be used by the baby to map themselves and others. That aspect of mapping the self is where all the social communication begins for an infant. There is probably a lot of truth to the matter. Why? Well, you might have noticed that infants tend to be more focused on other people at a young age rather than on inanimate objects.
The research being conducted from researchers of the likes of Dr. Saby and Dr. Meltzoff does prove that there is a certain sense of the self in infants, at least in the bodily sense of the word. This is something that answers a lot of questions about the early development of babies, what they think about themselves and how aware they are of their self. It also raises a lot more questions when it comes to when the sense of self-consciousness originates in the human mind and about the development of the connections that a human being builds with other human beings. These are the essential elements that make us human beings the social animals that we are. The understanding of the human baby’s brain, how it is connected to the behavior of the baby through the prospect of neurosciences might actually help us to understand the more philosophical questions that we might have about ourselves, who we are as humans and exactly what we are.