BookmarkBookmarkTickBookmarkAddCheckBoxFilledCheckBoxCircleBumpCheckedFilledMedical

Babies Develop Self-Awareness as Young as 4 Months Old, Study Suggests

New research suggests that babies may be born with an inherent understanding of how to interact and navigate the world around them.
save article
profile picture of Wyndi Kappes
By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published November 27, 2023
Baby with ball
Image: Africa Images

Babies may be more in tune with their surroundings than we ever imagined.

A new study conducted by the University of Birmingham’s BabyLab, published in Scientific Reports this November reveals that infants as young as four months old possess a remarkable ability to comprehend how their bodies interact with the space around them.

The research, led by Dr. Giulia Orioli, explored the development of self-awareness in babies through a series of clever experiments. Using a ball on a screen that either approached or moved away, the researchers observed the reactions of the babies.

Intriguingly, when the ball on the screen was closest to the babies, a gentle ‘touch’ (in the form of a small vibration) was administered to their hands. Meanwhile, the researchers measured the babies’ brain activity during these interactions.

The findings were nothing short of fascinating. From as early as four months old, babies exhibited heightened somatosensory (tactile) brain activity when a touch coincided with an object moving towards them.

“Our findings indicate that even in the first few months of life, before babies have even learned to reach for objects, the multisensory brain is wired up to make links between what babies see and what they feel. This means they can sense the space around them and understand how their bodies interact with that space—referred to as peripersonal space," Dr. Orioli shared.

She emphasized that this discovery challenges our understanding of early human development. The ability to perceive and anticipate touch in relation to spatial awareness appears to be an innate skill, raising questions about the interplay between nature and nurture in the formation of these abilities.

Intriguingly, the researchers also investigated the reactions of older babies, around eight months old, to unexpected touches. When the touch on their hand was preceded by the ball on the screen moving away from them, the babies’ brain activity revealed signs of surprise.

Professor Andrew Bremner noted, “This indicates that as babies proceed through their first year of life, their brains construct a more sophisticated awareness of how their body exists in the space around them."

Looking ahead, the researchers plan to expand their study to include even younger and older participants. By comparing the brain activity of infants with that of adults, they hope to shed light on the progression of these “multisensory” abilities. Additionally, they aim to explore whether newborns, only a few days old, already possess the foundations of spatial self-awareness—a prospect that could offer insights into the origins of human consciousness.

save article
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List
ADVERTISEMENT

Next on Your Reading List

sad beige parenting and neutral baby decor
How Colors Play a Role in Baby’s Development
Medically Reviewed by Dina DiMaggio Walters, MD
baby using the pincer grasp while playing with block toys
What Is the Pincer Grasp?
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
mother playing with baby during tummy time
What Are Gross and Fine Motor Skills?
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
baby grabbing toy while lying down
When Do Babies Start Grabbing Things?
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
baby grasping mom's finger, palmar grasp
What Is the Palmar Grasp Reflex in Babies?
Medically Reviewed by Dina DiMaggio Walters, MD
teaching baby to walk
Baby’s First Steps: When Do Babies Start Walking?
Medically Reviewed by Loretta Cody, MD
baby and mom clapping and smiling on couch together at home
When Do Babies Wave, Clap and Point?
Medically Reviewed by Loretta Cody, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
mother looking at baby in bassinet
When Can Babies See Clearly?
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
top view of baby drawing with crayons
This Simple Hack Will Help Your Child Get the Right Grip on a Pencil
By Wyndi Kappes
Baby practicing tummy time.
Introducing Tummy Time to Baby
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
ADVERTISEMENT
baby doing tummy time while playing with toy
Viral TikTok About the Need for Tummy Time Sparks Conversation
By Wyndi Kappes
baby standing on bed with smiling mother
When Can You Expect Baby to Stand?
By Colleen De Bellefonds
mother holding toddler during covid lockdown quarantine
Toddlers Learned More Words During Lockdown Than Expected, Study Says
By Nehal Aggarwal
ADVERTISEMENT
Why Baby Hates Tummy Time (and What You Can Do to Help)
Why Baby Hates Tummy Time (and What You Can Do to Help)
By Nehal Aggarwal
Newborn baby yawning while swaddled.
The Moro Reflex: What Makes Babies Startle and How to Calm the Reflex
By Dina DiMaggio Walters, MD
Dad smiling and looking at his baby daughter.
How to Address Your Child’s Developmental Delay During the Pandemic
By Jocelyn M. Wood, CCC-SLP
Baby exercises with mom
14 Baby Exercises to Get Your Baby Moving
By Kristina Cappetta
ADVERTISEMENT
Why Does My Baby Keep Pulling Tupperware Out of Our Kitchen Cabinets?
Why Does My Baby Keep Pulling Tupperware Out of Our Kitchen Cabinets?
By The Bump Editors
Why Babies Pull Their Legs to Their Chest
Why Babies Pull Their Legs to Their Chest
By Wendy Sue Swanson, MD
newborn head circumference measured growth
Baby Growth Chart
By Aviva Patz
ADVERTISEMENT
Article removed.