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Touch: The sensory scaffold of development?

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Touch is the first of our senses to develop. From the first prenatal trimester, touch provides the sensory scaffold on which we come to perceive our own bodies and sense of self. As well as bodily experiences, touch yields direct access to the external world of physical objects via haptics, and it also comprises key social-affective functions. And yet, surveys of the literature indicate that the numbers of articles examining tactile perceptual development (~7%) are dwarfed by those directed at the other senses. In this talk I will review research into tactile perceptual development across social, cognitive, emotional and affective domains, focussing particularly on research from my own laboratory addressing the early development of tactile contributions to own body perception. Key findings indicate that although tactile inputs have a developmental precedence compared to other senses, the developmental process by which touch becomes integrated with other sensory inputs extends well into postnatal development. Given this, I will argue that touch should be considered as central to the study of perceptual development rather than being neglected in the periphery where it has, until recently, very definitely resided.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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