Caregiving touch has been shown to be essential for the growth and development of human infants. However, the physiological and behavioral mechanisms that underpin infants' sensitivity to pleasant touch are still poorly understood. In human adults, a subclass of unmyelinated peripheral nerve fibers has been shown to respond preferentially to medium-velocity soft brushing. It has been theorized that this privileged pathway for pleasant touch is used for close affiliative interactions with conspecific individuals, especially between caregivers and infants. To test whether human infants are sensitive to pleasant touch, we examined arousal (heart rate) and attentional engagement (gaze shifts and duration of looks) to varying velocities of brushing (slow, medium, and fast) in 9-month-old infants. Our results provide physiological and behavioral evidence that sensitivity to pleasant touch emerges early in development and therefore plays an important role in regulating human social interactions.
Keywords: cognitive development; infant development; social interaction.