Which limb is it? Responses to vibrotactile stimulation in early infancy

Eszter Somogyi, Lisa Jacquey, Tobias Heed, Matej Hoffmann, Jeffrey J. Lockman, Lionel Granjon, Jacqueline Fagard, J. Kevin O'Regan

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This study focuses on how the body schema develops during the first months of life, by investigating infants’ motor responses to localized vibrotactile stimulation on their limbs. Vibrotactile stimulation was provided by small buzzers that were attached to the infants’ four limbs one at a time. Four age groups were compared cross-sectionally (3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-month-olds). We show that before they actually reach for the buzzer, which, according to previous studies, occurs around 7–8 months of age, infants demonstrate emerging knowledge about their body's configuration by producing specific movement patterns associated with the stimulated body area. At 3 months, infants responded with an increase in general activity when the buzzer was placed on the body, independently of the vibrator's location. Differentiated topographical awareness of the body seemed to appear around 5 months, with specific responses resulting from stimulation of the hands emerging first, followed by the differentiation of movement patterns associated with the stimulation of the feet. Qualitative analyses revealed specific movement types reliably associated with each stimulated location by 6 months of age, possibly preparing infants’ ability to actually reach for the vibrating target. We discuss this result in relation to newborns’ ability to learn specific movement patterns through intersensory contingency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-401
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date11 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018
Externally publishedYes


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