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Babies feel touch differently than we do
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A new study says that infants and newborns don't feel a sense of touch the same way we do. Here's why parents should still tickle their child. - photo by Herb Scribner
Infants dont have the same sense of touch as everybody else.

That's according to a new study published in Current Biology which found that an infants sense of touch is different from babies older than 4 months, children and adults. Specifically, babies feel the sense of touch on their bodies but dont connect them to objects in the external world, according to Newsweek.

That is to say, if a mother tickles her baby, the baby will only feel the tickling, but wont understand that the mother is doing the tickling.

We think (this means) that before around 6 months of age, human babies perceive touches just on their bodies, and not in the external world. If one tries to imagine what this must be like it's a bit of a dizzying idea," Andrew Bremner of Goldsmiths, University of London, said in a statement.

To find this, researchers conducted tickling tests on infants from 4 to 6 months old with a vibrating device, according to the studys press release. They found that 70 percent of 4-month-olds and 50 percent of 6-month-olds couldnt identify the source of the vibration.

But this only changes as infants grow, according to Newsweek. In fact, researchers believe an infants perception of the outside world can change as their vision develops, Newsweek reported.

This isnt a surprising idea, since a babys vision isnt exceptionally developed in those early months. In fact, as I wrote back in June, a study from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Uppsala in Sweden found that newborns can only perceive faces from 12 inches away. Anything farther away than that will appear blurry and almost unseeable to a newborn, as I reported.

Researchers in the study said they were unclear if infants can make sense of what they're seeing at an early age, according to the study.

But other research has found that infants, even when they cant recognize whats touching them, can learn from someone tickling their toes and feet based on what they hear.

A 2014 study from Purdue University found that simple touches to a baby like tickling their toes or rocking them can help improve their language skills because babies will remember the words they hear while being touched.

"We found that infants treat touches as if they are related to what they hear, and thus these touches could have an impact on their word learning," Amanda Seidl, an associate professor of speech, said in a Purdue release. "We think of touch as conveying affection, but our recent research shows that infants can relate touches to their incoming speech signal.

To find this, researchers conducted two experiments on 4-month-olds.

In the first, they touched a babys knee every time they uttered a gibberish word dobita and then touched the babys elbow just once while playing the word lepoga. In a language preference study afterward, the babies showed favoritism to the word dobita.

In the second experiment, researchers touched their own chins while saying a specific word, but the babies showed no signs of recognizing the word, according to Purdue.

It didn't matter how much time the infant spent looking at the experimenter's face, the babies were not able to use these cues in the same way as they were when their own body was touched," Seidi said.

This fits in with a long line of research that has found tickling or lightly touching a baby can benefit their brain development. In fact, simple touches can help a baby feel more emotionally connected to his or her parents, which improves childhood experiences, too, according to Scientific American.

Ann Bigelow, a professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, said this is key to a childs development.

The more experience babies have with someone who is going to be emotionally engaged with them, the better off they're going to be, according to Scientific American. But babies are incredibly flexible and adaptable. It's probably the most adaptable point in our lives, which is a good thing because things can turn around.
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