Year of Publication

2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Ramesh S. Bhatt

Abstract

Bodies provide important social information, and adults benefit from this information by recognizing and responding appropriately to bodies. Body recognition is enabled by the fact that human bodies are defined by parts, such as the limbs, torso, and head, arranged in a particular configuration. To understand the development of social cognition, it is important to analyze and document how infants come to recognize bodies. Infants are sensitive to distortions to the global configurations of bodies by 3.5 months of age, suggesting an early onset of body knowledge. It was unclear, however, whether such sensitivity indicates knowledge of the location of specific body parts or solely reflects sensitivity to the overall gestalt or outline of bodies. The current study addressed this by examining whether infants attend to specific locations in which parts of the body have been reorganized. Results of Experiments 1 and 2 show that 5-month-olds, but not 3.5-month-olds, are sensitive to the location of specific body parts, as demonstrated by a difference in allocation of attention to the body joint areas that were normal (e.g., where the arm connects to the shoulder) versus ones that were reorganized. Furthermore, to examine whether this kind of processing is driven by information from the face/head, in Experiment 3 I tested infants on images in which the face/head was removed. Infants no longer exhibited differential scanning of normal versus reorganized bodies. To further assess whether infants were responding to critical information provided by the face/head or whether their processing was disrupted solely because the headless images were incomplete bodies, Experiment 4 examined infants’ performance on body images missing limbs. Once again, infants failed to exhibit differential scanning of typical versus reorganized bodies. Together, these results suggest that 5-month-olds are sensitive to the location of body parts. However, the presence of the face/head (Experiment 3) and limbs (Experiment 4) are necessary for 5-month-olds to exhibit differential scanning of reorganized versus intact body images. Overall, by 5 months of age, infants are sensitive to precise locations of body parts, and thus demonstrate a rather sophisticated level of knowledge about the structure of the human body. The role that the face/head and limbs play in body structure knowledge development is still unclear, and future studies need to address this question.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2019.240

Funding Information

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD075829)

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