Development of Body Knowledge in Infancy

  • Bhatt, Ramesh (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


Intellectual Merit Bodies are highly significant social stimuli. Like faces, they convey a considerable amount of information about people, their emotions, and their intentions. Yet, while a great deal of research has addressed the early development of knowledge about faces, very little is known about the development of knowledge about bodies. The proposed research will address this issue by examining the nature of body knowledge development in infancy and the mechanisms that drive this development. The framework for this research is provided by the Slaughter and Heron (2004) model, which proposes that visuospatial body knowledge is minimal early in life, and posits that body knowledge development is driven by sensorimotor information gained from the infant’s own motor activities and from observing other people. The planned studies will test key predictions of this model. They will also indicate how the development of knowledge about bodies compares with the development of knowledge about faces. Moreover, proposed studies will examine whether increasing competence in visual exploration is a mechanism underlying the development of visuospatial body knowledge. Specifically, one set of studies will document the development of sensitivity to featural and several kinds of relational information, including body-part organization, relative proportions of parts, and the holistic relations between bodies and faces and among body parts. These kinds of information play a central role in adults’ processing of faces and bodies, and it is necessary to analyze sensitivity to them for a comprehensive account of body knowledge development in infancy. Another set of proposed studies is based upon prior findings which suggest that the development of key aspects of object and face perception are driven by changes in visual exploration and attention. We will test the hypothesis that visual exploration capacities similarly contribute to the development of body knowledge. A third set of proposed studies will investigate the relation between motor development and body knowledge development. Facility in motor activities such as sitting and crawling has been associated with the development of a number of perceptual and cognitive functions. We will examine the proposition that motor development is associated with body knowledge development. A final set of studies originates from findings indicating that learning plays a significant role in the development of object and face perception. We will test the hypothesis that body knowledge development is facilitated by learning induced by observing other people. Thus, the proposed studies will document the development of visuospatial body knowledge in infancy, examine the role of visual exploration as an underlying mechanism of development, and investigate whether motor behavior and observational learning contribute to this development. Broader Impact Researchers in many disciplines, such as biology, sociology, education, and artificial intelligence, have a great interest in the development of social perception. The knowledge gained from the proposed research has thus the potential to impact these diverse fields. Moreover, a fuller understanding of the typical development of body knowledge in infancy may aid in early identification and treatment of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is associated with deficits in social perception. In addition, a comprehensive accounting of typical development of basic perceptual-cognitive abilities, including infant representation of bodies and faces, is important for educating parents and caregivers about development. Research assistantships provided by the grant will allow the PI to train students to conduct research in developmental psychology and to disseminate the results in conferences and in journal articles. Thus, the proposed project will also have a broad impact by involving undergraduate and graduate students in research, a critical first step on the path to becoming an independent investigator.
Effective start/end date9/1/118/31/15


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