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  • Final Report Summary - HEMSDEV (Human Embodied MultiSensory Development: An investigation of the construction of embodied multisensory experience in human infancy and early childhood)

HEMSDEV Sintesi della relazione

Project ID: 241242
Finanziato nell'ambito di: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Paese: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - HEMSDEV (Human Embodied MultiSensory Development: An investigation of the construction of embodied multisensory experience in human infancy and early childhood)

Perceiving the spatial disposition of our body and limbs –forming “body representations”– allows us to manipulate and move around our environments in physically competent and functional ways. Body representations also provide a fundamental point of reference to objects and people in the external world. HEMSDEV (“Human Embodied Multisensory Development”), a five-year, ERC-funded project led by Prof Andrew J. Bremner. Prof Bremner and his research team at the Goldsmiths InfantLab (Goldsmiths, University of London), has investigated the origins and development of body representations in human infancy and childhood.

Research from experimental psychology and the neurosciences has shown that perception and understanding of our bodies and limbs is underpinned by multisensory processes. Our brains represent the disposition of our limbs by integrating and reconciling bodily sensory signals arising from vision, touch, proprioception and even hearing. HEMSDEV has made use of a range of behavioural and brain imaging measures to trace the development of these multisensory bodily processes across infancy, early childhood and into adulthood.

HEMSDEV has shown that there are functionally significant changes in the way the body senses are used across infancy and childhood. A sense of where tactile stimuli come from in the external environment emerges postnatally between 4 and 6 months of age. Beyond 6 months developments continue in the extent to which infants are able to track the location of a touch across changes in body posture (e.g., changes in the position of the arms). Both behavioural and brain responses (measured by electroencephalography "EEG") indicate that an ability to update the location of a touch across changes in posture develops up to 10 months of age. EEG findings further indicate such developments occur at the level of perception rather than in terms of infants’ responses. These findings have significant implications for how infants perceive their bodies and limbs in relation to the external world, and thus the development of skilled action. In fact, HEMSDEV researchers also traced significant improvements in the tailoring of actions to locations in external space which occurred at very similar points to the developments in multisensory body representations just described.

HEMSDEV has also examined how infants and children combine multiple cues to the same bodily event across the senses. The ability to identify when visual, auditory, and tactile cues are happening at the same time and in the same place appears to be available fairly early in infancy (from four months at least). However, the ways in which we use different sensory cues in combination to identify our own limbs and locate them in space continues to change right up into early adolescence. Further studies, often using bodily illusions such as the “rubber hand illusion”, show that the ways children use visual cues to the body are quite different from the ways adults do, often showing an over-reliance which occasionally interferes with accurate body representations.

A further concern of HEMSDEV has been to find out how infants and young children perceive and understand the spatial organization of their own bodies into parts (limbs). HEMSDEV has established that segmentation of the body into parts occurs from early childhood at the latest, and that cultural linguistic factors (i.e., the ways in which one’s language divides up the body) may impact upon this developmental process.

Another concern has been to determine what drives the development of body representations, examining in particular the role of emerging sensorimotor abilities by examining the effects of motor training on body representations, and also by comparing the emergence of body representations across typically developing children, and groups showing atypical motor motor development (Williams Syndrome, Downs Syndrome, and Developmental Coordination Disorder).

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United Kingdom