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Body representation in infants: Categorical boundaries of body parts as assessed by somatosensory mismatch negativity.

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Shen, Guannan 
Meltzoff, Andrew N 
Weiss, Staci M 
Marshall, Peter J 


There is growing interest in developing and using novel measures to assess how the body is represented in human infancy. Various lines of evidence with adults and older children show that tactile perception is modulated by a high-level representation of the body. For instance, the distance between two points of tactile stimulation is perceived as being greater when these points cross a joint boundary than when they are within a body part, suggesting that the representation of the body is structured with joints acting as categorical boundaries between body parts. Investigating the developmental origins of this categorical effect has been constrained by infants' inability to verbally report on the properties of tactile stimulation. Here we made novel use of an infant brain measure, the somatosensory mismatch negativity (sMMN), to explore categorical aspects of tactile body processing in infants aged 6-7 months. Amplitude of the sMMN elicited by tactile stimuli across the wrist boundary was significantly greater than for stimuli of equal distance that were within the boundary, suggesting a categorical effect in body processing in infants. We suggest that an early-appearing, structured representation of the body into 'parts' may play a role in mapping correspondences between self and other.



Body representation, Categorical body perception, Infant EEG, sMMN, Body Image, Female, Human Body, Humans, Infant, Male, Somatosensory Cortex

Journal Title

Dev Cogn Neurosci

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Elsevier BV