Babies can recognise social interaction at a few hours old

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New research shows that at just one-day old, babies can differentiate between social interactions such as playing 'peekaboo' and non-social movement such as an arm manipulating an object.

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Previous studies have shown the earliest observations of brain responses to social human actions were in four-month-old babies, who had already had thousands of face-to-face communications and could have learned to respond to these social stimuli.

However, this new research by Birkbeck Baby Lab at the University of London and the Universita di Padova in Italy, suggests that babies respond to social clues just hours after birth.

Researchers used a technique known as ‘near infra-red spectroscopy’ to measure the brain activity of 24 newborns between 24 and 120 hours after birth.

They found that the strength of the observed response to social cues increased significantly with the number of hours following birth, which they say indicates that face-to-face interactions, even within the first few hours of life, play an important role in the development of the social brain.

Birkbeck Babylab scientist Sarah Lloyd Fox said, ‘This study gives us a clear understanding of what brain activity related to social cues should look like in a typically developing baby. Eventually we may be able to compare this to the brain activity of babies who are classed as high-risk for autism to see whether they display differences in these brain responses from birth. This might lead to earlier diagnosis of autism, which would enable families to have more support from an earlier time in their child’s development.’

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