newborn baby and parentsThere’s nothing more fascinating for new parents than to watch the world unfold for their new baby. The infant’s voyage of discovery begins at the moment of birth, if not before, but it's too soon for your bundle of joy to describe the wonders it encounters with every breath. One question many parents ponder is when does this glorious little person know it is indeed a separate and unique human being. When does the sense of self come into a baby’s existence?

Maria Laura Filippetti says this awareness of its own existence is there by day #2. Filippetti says this sense of existence is strengthened with a sense of ownership of its body that can be documented on day #2 also. Filippetti is a doctoral candidate at the University of London’s Birkbeck College, where she specializes in cognitive development.

According to Filippetti, "Body awareness refers to the feeling of being alive. Body ownership refers to the feeling of having a body, the sense that this body belongs to me."

To test a newborn’s sense of self-awareness, Filippetti and her team of colleagues tweaked a test known as the rubber hand illusion to gauge a baby’s reaction to certain stimuli. The experiment included a paint brush to stroke the cheeks of the babies in the study and a video of another baby.

In one segment of the experiment, researchers stroked a baby’s cheek with the paint brush at the same time the cheek of the baby in the video was stroked. In another segment, only one baby’s cheek was stroked or the baby in the video was not stroked at all.

The live infant watched the videotaped infant longest when both babies were being stroked at the same time, suggesting to the research team the baby’s sense of awareness and ownership of body. This response also indicated to the research team the infant’s preference for the simultaneous stroking.

Interestingly, when the same experiment was conducted with the videotaped baby upside down, the live infant did not respond, even when cheeks were stroked simultaneously.

Filippetti acknowledges that her findings are not an absolute certainty since the babies in the study could not speak for themselves to confirm her hypothesis, but she says the factors related to body awareness in adults are the same as those exhibited by the newborns in her study.

Filippetti hopes this and other similar experiments will lead to new insights governing atypical development issues, including the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Source: Filippetti, ML, et al. “Body Perceptions in Newborns.” Current Biology. Cell Press. Nov 21, 2013. Web. Dec 3, 2013.