The ability to differentiate your own body from others is a fundamental skill, critical for humans’ ability to interact with their environments and the people in them. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology, provide some of the first evidence that newborn babies enter the world with the essential mechanisms for this kind of body awareness already in place.

In addition to this insight into normal human development, the researchers stress the importance of the new findings for understanding atypical development, too.

“The identification of these mechanisms at birth in the current study sheds light on the typical trajectory of body awareness across development,” says Maria Laura Filippetti of Birkbeck College, University of London. “Our findings may also be relevant to the investigation of early predictors of developmental disorders in infants, such as autism, where impairment in the discrimination of self/other is believed to be present.”

Earlier studies in adults showed that the integration of information from different senses is key to body awareness. If an individual watches another person’s face being touched as his or her own face is touched in the same way, the perception of self actually shifts to partially incorporate that other face. In the new study, Filippetti and colleagues wanted to go back to the very beginning in investigating that phenomenon by studying newborn babies.

The findings may help in understanding disorders characterized by a lack of self-awareness, and the researchers call for additional research, particularly in the context of autism.

Source: Science Daily

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