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Title: Affective touch in infancy
Author: Pirazzoli, Laura
ISNI:       0000 0004 7967 9027
Awarding Body: Birkbeck, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2019
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Social touch is ubiquitous in caregiver-infant interactions. Research on animal models and preterm human infants has shown that touch is critical for a young organism's physical and psychological growth. However, the role that social interaction through touch plays in the development of typically developing human infants is poorly understood. The research presented in this thesis investigated neural specialization for social touch and the mechanisms through which social touch might promote early development. I focus on a particular type of touch, slow velocity stroking, shown to activate a particular type of skin fibers in human adults, the CT-fibers, and to elicit affective responses (henceforth affective touch). Research presented here investigated cortical activation and autonomic responses to affective touch, during the first year of life. Firstly, in experiments 1 through 4 functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) was employed to measure haemodynamic responses to affective and non-affective touch over inferior frontal and temporal cortices. Experiments 1, 2 and 3 used three different non-affective stimuli and revealed that specialization to affective touch in key nodes of the social brain has not developed yet in 5 to 7-months-old infants. Results from Experiment 4 suggest that this specialization emerges near the end of the first year of life (10-montholds). Secondly, in experiments 5 and 6 heart rate changes to affective and nonaffective touch were measured in three different age-groups (2, 7 and 9-monthold). Results revealed that infants in neither group displayed differential responses to the touch stimuli. Further, experiment 5 explored whether affective touch modulates visual attention but an effect was not found. Taken together these findings showed that preferential processing of affective touch is not evident during early development, at least when investigating neural and autonomic responses. In all my studies, I strived to present tactile stimuli in the absence of other social cues, thus ensuring that any effects would have been specific to touch. In the final discussion I suggest that the lack of context might have prevented infants from identifying affective touch. I also discuss the possibility that other forms of inter-personal touch, and not CT-targeted touch, may be critical in early human development, and should be investigated in future research.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available