Seeing touches early in life

Margaret Addabbo, Elena Longhi, Nadia Bolognini, Irene Senna, Paolo Tagliabue, Viola Macchi Cassia, Chiara Turati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The sense of touch provides fundamental information about the surrounding world, and feedback about our own actions. Although touch is very important during the earliest stages of life, to date no study has investigated infants' abilities to process visual stimuli implying touch. This study explores the developmental origins of the ability to visually recognize touching gestures involving others. Looking times and orienting responses were measured in a visual preference task, in which participants were simultaneously presented with two videos depicting a touching and a no-touching gesture involving human body parts (face, hand) and/or an object (spoon). In Experiment 1, 2-day-old newborns and 3-month-old infants viewed two videos: in one video a moving hand touched a static face, in the other the moving hand stopped before touching it. Results showed that only 3-month-olds, but not newborns, differentiated the touching from the no-touching gesture, displaying a preference for the former over the latter. To test whether newborns could manifest a preferential visual response when the touched body part is different from the face, in Experiment 2 newborns were presented with touching/no-touching gestures in which a hand or an inanimate object -i.e., a spoon- moved towards a static hand. Newborns were able to discriminate a handto-hand touching gesture, but they did not manifest any preference for the object-to-hand touch. The present findings speak in favour of an early ability to visually recognize touching gestures involving the interaction between human body parts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0134549
JournalPLoS One
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 14 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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