Cover Story: Body Maps in the Infant Brain

On the cover of its September issue, Trends in Cognitive Sciences showcases pioneering I-LABS research on body maps in the infant brain.

Neural “body maps," which have been documented with adults, show that different areas of the cortex become active when a corresponding location of the body is touched. But little is know about body maps in infant brains or how they develop and change with experience.

I-LABS' Andrew Meltzoff and Temple University's Peter Marshall report new work on this understudied area in infant neuroscience in their cover article in Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

The researchers suspect that body maps in the brain play an important role in how infants learn about their own bodies and how young children connect with others.

“This neuroscience work is helping us to understand the building blocks of infant learning,” said Meltzoff, who holds the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Endowed Chair and is co-director of I-LABS, in a university news release. “Before language, infants learn many skills and social customs by imitating others. Infants need to map the behaviors they see onto their own bodies in order to imitate. Understanding neural body maps may help explain how infants learn so rapidly from watching others in their culture."

In their article, Marshall and Meltzoff discuss new infant research on body maps and highlight their recently published work with I-LABS postdoctoral fellow, Joni Saby.

The line of research is now slated to expand using I-LABS’ unique MEG brain-imaging device.

“How infants respond to touch is a fundamental topic for understanding early social-emotional development. We are deeply intrigued by what brain science can tell us about infants’ sense of touch," Meltzoff said.

Read the Trends in Cognitive Sciences article.
Read the UW news release.

Selected Media Coverage
Wall Street Journal
BYU Radio, "Top of the Mind"