Research Shows That Babies Are Born with Self-Awareness
A recent study suggests that babies are born with basic, essential mechanisms needed to build body awareness, the ability to distinguish themselves from others, from the moment they are born.
If you think newborns are just little lumps of adorableness with little awareness of the world around them, think again. New evidence indicates that despite the lack of motor skills and behind those unfocused eyes is an aware individual born with self-perception. A recent study published in an issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, indicates that babies have a built-in self-awareness, a body awareness, from the moment they are born. Body awareness is important to a baby’s ability to distinguish itself from others. Up until now, it was widely believed that babies did not have the capacity to develop self-awareness until around 18 months.
Maria Laura Filippetti, a doctoral student at the Center for Brain and Cognitive Development at the University of London said, “The identification of these mechanisms at birth in the current study sheds light on the typical trajectory of body awareness across development.” The findings may aid in understanding disorders characterized by a lack of self-awareness, and the researchers call for additional research, particularly in the context of autism.
Filippetti stated, “For years, research on autism has focused on the impairment in social interactions. We believe it will be important for further studies to specifically investigate the perception of the self in this population, as well as the relationship of self to other.”
The test, which was conducted by Filippetti and her colleagues, was based on an idea from an earlier conducted test performed on adults showing that integration of information from different senses is an important part of body awareness. This adult study indicated that people can be convinced that a rubber hand is their own if they see it stroked while their own hand is simultaneously stroked.
As they applied this test to newborns, the researchers took 40 newborns between the ages of 12 hours and 4 days old. They showed the baby a video of a baby’s face being stroked by a paintbrush while the researcher simultaneously stroke the newborn’s face in sync with the motion on the screen.
This test was then repeated but with the image on the screen flipped upside-down and performed again with researcher’s strokes having a 5-second delay. The babies looked longest at the screen when the stroking matched what they actually felt on their faces, and only with right-side up images. They were less interested when the image was upside-down as it was not relatable to them.
Because babies cannot verbally answer or indicate how they are feeling, looking time is used as the standard measure in infant research. The findings indicate that newborns are born with basic, essential mechanisms needed to build body awareness.
This study makes a strong statement about the intelligence and consciousness of babies. For me, and likely many other mothers, it validates what I had believed all along based on nothing more than my maternal instincts. My daughter was born surprisingly alert. Her eyes were wide open and she had this calm, knowing look that said she knew what was up. The minute I held my daughter after she was born, I had a notion that she was observing me, evaluating me, her mother, someone separate and apart from herself. She was sizing me up thinking, “So this is the owner of my baby house. I see.” Drawing upon my maternal and emotional instincts, I was sure that she was aware of her environment, her body, her self. And it was clear to me that she had brought this understanding with her. I could never have proved it, but I sure felt it. This study puts some science behind those maternal perceptions.
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