Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Notes on Self Awareness Development in Early Infancy

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Notes on Self Awareness Development in Early Infancy

Article excerpt


The current paper analyzes the development in early infancy of the bodily self as a component of self awareness. We specifically emphasize the conceptual distinction between the body schema and the body image as body representations, highlighting the empirical evidence that support their development early in the first year of life.

KEYWORDS: body schema, body image, self development, infancy.

Starting with the age of 18-months, when placed in front of a mirror after being surreptitiously marked on the forehead with a rouge spot, most of the infants investigate their own face in search of that mark (Amsterdam, 1972; Gallup, 1970). This has been interpreted as a sign that infants this age have some mental representations of their appearance (Wheeler, Stuss, & Tulving, 1997), a rapidly updatable expectation of what they look like from the outside (Nielsen, Suddendorf, & Slaughter, 2006). How do infants reach the point of holding such mental representations about the self is still a question in search of answers. What we do know today is the fact that long before the second year of life, infants do hold a sense of themselves as different from other entities in the environment (Rochat, 1998).

The sense of self refers to the ability to become consciously aware of one's own bodily and mental states (e.g., perceptions, attitudes, opinions, intentions for actions, emotions) as belonging to self. The basic components that allow the integration of mental and bodily states in order to generate a sense of self are represented by first person perspective taking (a phenomenological level referring to the attribution of the experiential multidimensional and multimodal space to one's own body) along with experiencing the feeling of ownership, experiencing agency, and the development of a coherent set of beliefs and attitudes embedded in an autobiographic context (Vogeley & Fink, 2003).

Several distinctions of the sense of self have been operated in both philosophical and psychological works. For example, Ulric Neisser (1988 cited in Gallagher, 2000) suggested important distinctions between ecological, interpersonal, extended, private, and conceptual aspects of self. The ecological self is the individual considered as an active agent in the immediate environment. This is characterized by a low level of self-awareness because it is based on a direct knowledge of oneself, and thus perceptual self-information. The interpersonal self emerges out of the interactions it engages in with other people in the environment, and the organism discovers more about itself and others by interacting with the social world. The extended self can reflect on itself over time, and it can generate thoughts about itself in the past and in the future. Then, the private self refers to how someone can process private self-information such as thoughts, feelings, and intentions. The self-concept is made up of abstract and symbolic representations of self. At this level of self, someone thinks about his/her roles, identity, traits, personal characteristics, and personal history (autobiography).

Although according to Vogeley and Fink's definition (2003) the final result is an explicit sense of self, throughout development the sense of self is most likely first experienced at implicit levels (Rochat & Striano, 2000), and these precede and coexists with later manifesting explicit forms of sense of self (Rochat, 2003; 2004). In other words, there is probably a transition from an ecological sense of self towards the development of a self-concept.

The bodily self

Holding a perceptual or an ecological sense of self requires the integration of afferent sensory information relating to the self in space (e.g., retinal, somaesthetic, proprioceptive, vestibular and auditory inputs) together with efferent information relating to motor output and the movement of the body in space, including the movement of the eyes, neck, trunk and limbs (Ventre-Dominay, Nighoghossian, & Denise, 2003). …

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