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Neural correlates of gentle skin stroking in early infancy

Journal article
Authors Jetro J. Tuulari
Noora M. Scheinin
Satu Lehtola
Harri Merisaari
Jani Saunavaara
Riitta Parkkola
Isac Sehlstedt
Linnea Karlsson
Hasse Karlsson
Malin Björnsdotter
Published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Volume 35
Pages 36-41
ISSN 1878-9293
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Physiology
Department of Psychology
Pages 36-41
Language en
Keywords Development, FMRI, Infants, Social touch, Touch
Subject categories Cognitive science


Physical expressions of affection play a foundational role in early brain development, but the neural correlates of affective touch processing in infancy remain unclear. We examined brain responses to gentle skin stroking, a type of tactile stimulus associated with affectionate touch, in young infants. Thirteen term-born infants aged 11-36. days, recruited through the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study, were included in the study. Soft brush strokes, which activate brain regions linked to somatosensory as well as socio-affective processing in children and adults, were applied to the skin of the right leg during functional magnetic resonance imaging. We examined infant brain responses in two regions-of-interest (ROIs) known to process gentle skin stroking - the postcentral gyrus and posterior insular cortex - and found significant responses in both ROIs. These results suggest that the neonate brain is responsive to gentle skin stroking within the first weeks of age, and that regions linked to primary somatosensory as well as socio-affective processing are activated. Our findings support the notion that social touch may play an important role in early life sensory processing. Future research will elucidate the significance of these findings for human brain development.

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