Babies as young as four months old have been found to have signs of self-awareness, according to a new study.
The research showed that four-month-old infants can make sense of how their bodies interact with the space around them, moving scientists closer to discovering the origins of consciousness.
To get these results the team, from the University of Birmingham, showed babies a ball on a screen moving towards or away from them.
The babies were then simulated with a touch using small vibrations on their hands as their brain activity was closely studied.
The researchers found that from just four months old, babies show enhanced brain activity when a touch is preceded by an object moving toward them.
Dr. Giulia Orioli said: “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. This is sometimes referred to as peripersonal space.
“Of course, humans do this all the time as adults, using our combined senses to perceive where we are in space and making predictions about when we will touch an object or not.
“But now that we know that babies in the early stages of their development begin to show signs of this, it opens up questions about how much of these abilities are learned, or innate.”
The researchers also explored how an unexpected touch would affect some of the older babies in the study.
They found that in babies aged eight months old when the touch on their hand was preceded by the ball on the screen moving away from them there were signs of surprise.
Professor Andrew Bremner said: “Seeing the older babies show surprise responses suggests that they had not expected the touch due to the visual direction the object was moving in.
“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.”
The full research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports and the team have hopes to continue their research on a wider age range including newborn babies.
Dr. Orioli added: “It is a challenge working with newborns, as they spend such a large portion of their time sleeping and eating, but we are starting to have some success working with this age group, and it is going to be fascinating to see if babies only a few days old have the foundations of a sense of their bodies in space.
“If so, it could be that we are looking at the origins of human consciousness.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker