‘Hands-on’ parenting may improve babies’ development

Scientists at Goldsmiths, University of London have published research that suggests that babies’ experience of touch and movement plays an important part in developing their understanding of the world.

Goldsmiths’ InfantLab tested 66 babies between 6 and 10 months old. The babies were stimulated with tactile buzzes on their arms and hands, while their electrical brain activity was recorded.

Researchers were able to see how the brain develops with responses to touch.

They found that there were significant changes in the ability of infants as they grew to understand where the sensations originated.

Babies seemed to be better at this from 8 – 10 months, once they had mastered the ability to move their limbs into different positions, with the ability to reach across their own body.

One of the babies in the research project wears the EEG sensor net. Photo: Goldsmiths

One of the babies in the research project wears the EEG sensor net. Photo: Goldsmiths

This is the first time research has focused on touch perception in infants and has uncovered new information about child development.

Dr Silvia Rigato, project researcher said: “As adults we need good maps of where our bodies and limbs are in order to be able to act and move around competently. It seems these take time to develop in the first year, and we didn’t know that before.”

Touch has long been acknowledged as important for babies. The benefits of skin to skin contact between infants and their mother have recently been shown to extend into the first ten years of life at least.

But this study suggests that tactile development is even more complex than first thought.

Dr Andrew Bremner, project lead said: “The next step for us will be to look at what drives this. Given that it takes a year for kids to develop these abilities, it seems safe to say that they would be more affected by experience and external stimulation, than if they were abilities already apparent in the newborn infant.”

Rosemary Dodds, Senior Policy Adviser at the National Childbirth Trust has also responded to the findings:

“We know that touch is very important for babies from the start. You can’t spoil a baby by holding and cuddling them and it’s a great way of strengthening parents’ bonds with their child.

The full research paper ‘The neural basis of somatosensory remapping develops in human infancy’ was published in the journal Current Biology on 22 May.

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