The Development Of A Topological Own-Body Representation In Early Life

Knight, Frances Le Cornu. 2014. The Development Of A Topological Own-Body Representation In Early Life. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

In a series of seven experiments I explored the development of a topological own-body representation. Specifically, I investigated the modulatory effect of body part boundaries on tactile distance perception in adults, children and infants, using behavioural, neuroimaging and cross-cultural methods.

In adults, the perceived distance between two tactile stimuli is elongated when those stimuli cross over a body part boundary (de Vignemont et al., 2009). This is explained by a category boundary effect of tactile perception. I ruled out an alternative interpretation of this effect based on localised increases in tactile acuity at body part boundaries. I then extended the finding of the tactile category boundary effect to 5-7-years-old children. I proceeded to examine the contribution of language, investigating the effect in Croatian school children, owing to linguistic variations in body part terminology. The effect was present but reduced, suggesting that the language we use to delineate the body influences the tactile category boundary effect but is not the sole contributor to its development.

Finally, I began developing a paradigm proposed to investigate the modulatory effect of body part boundaries on somatosensory processing in infants. I used an event-related potential paradigm to investigate the somatosensory mismatch negativity (sMMN) component. For the first time, I found evidence of an sMMN in 8½-month-old infants elicited by a change in the site of tactile stimulation. This finding suggests that young infants are able to differentiate tactile locations with respect to the body. The sMMN could potentially reflect the neural mechanism that enables such a capacity.

The findings reported in this thesis support the proposal of a topological own-body representation that modulates tactile perception according to body part boundaries. It extends these findings to early childhood, and demonstrates the ontogenetic contribution of body part terms in children’s native language to tactile spatial perception. The wider theoretical implications of these findings are discussed with respect to typical and atypical body representation concerning developmental disorders; a broader understanding of the development of tactile perception and how this may inform future technologies and learning tools; and the sMMN as an early diagnostic tool for neurodevelopmental disorders.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Body representation; Body topology; Tactile perception; Categorical perception; Developmental Neuroscience

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Psychology > InfantLab


6 October 2014

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

10 Oct 2014 14:33

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 09:04


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