Tune to touch: Affective touch enhances learning of face identity in 4-month-old infants

Letizia Della Longa, Teodora Gliga, Teresa Farroni (Lead Author)

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Touch provides more than sensory input for discrimination of what is on the skin. From early in development it has a rewarding and motivational value, which may reflect an evolutionary mechanism that promotes learning and affiliative bonding. In the present study we investigated whether affective touch helps infants tune to social signals, such as faces. Four-month-old infants were habituated to an individual face with averted gaze, which typically does not engage infants to the same extent as direct gaze does. As in a previous study, in the absence of touch, infants did not learn the identity of this face. Critically, 4-month-old infants did learn to discriminate this face when parents provided gentle stroking, but they did not when they experienced a non-social tactile stimulation. A preliminary follow-up eye-tracking study (Supplementary material) revealed no significant difference in the visual scanning of faces between touch and no-touch conditions, suggesting that affective touch may not affect the distribution of visual attention, but that it may promote more efficient learning of facial information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-46
Number of pages5
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Early online date11 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes

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