Babies’ Brains: When Does Consciousness Emerge?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Kristin Duvall / Getty Images

Finding the point at which babies’ reactions change from being purely reflexive to reflecting more intention is leading researches to focus on the first glimmers of conscious thought in infants as young as 5 months old.

“We can prove that the same neuromarkers of consciousness found in adults can be found in babies as early as five months of age,” says lead author Sid Kouider, a researcher at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, of his new study on the earliest signs of conscious thought in infants that was published in Science.

To look for consciousness in babies too young to talk, the authors took advantage of research on visual perception, which showed that the brain processes a great deal of visual information before any of it reaches a level of conscious awareness. EEG signals, which are measured by placing electrodes on the head, can clearly distinguish between visual data that is consciously seen and that which is simply taken in by the brain. These signals show a major change when a person first becomes consciously aware of an object that has previously received only subliminal attention.

“There are two stages of perceptual processing,” explains Kouider. “The first stage is basically activation of neurons in the sensory cortex. Just a little visual stimulation — even if you can’t see it consciously — is going to activate [this brain region].” The brain still shows electrical activity on an EEG, for example, even if images or words flash by so quickly that they aren’t consciously perceived. (This information registers somewhere in the brain, however, because such “subliminal” data can affect responses to later tasks).

The second stage, which can be reported verbally by adults, comes with a different signal and is essentially either “all” — when you can see it — or “none,” if the object isn’t visible at all, indicating a conscious level of attention and processing.

To better understand how, and when these different levels of perception might be engaged in babies, the researchers placed EEG caps on 30 5-month-olds, 29 1-year-olds and 21 15-month-old toddlers and had them look at images of faces to determine whether they would generate the signals associated with the second, more intentional type of processing. And indeed, Kouider says they found that the babies’ brains traced the same signature of consciousness as adult brains.

“What changes basically is that the neural signal of consciousness we observe is weaker at five months,” he says, “It’s less stable and it’s much slower.” Indeed, a 5-month-old must see an image for four times longer than adult would to show a signal of conscious visual awareness — and this takes three times longer for 12- and 15-month-olds.

(MORE: Anesthesia Study Opens Window Into Consciousness)

“It’s intriguing,” says Lise Eliot, associate professor of neuroscience at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago and author of What’s Going On in There?, which examines infant-brain development. Eliot notes that while previous research suggested that there might be signals of consciousness in infants, “This is a much more elegant, carefully controlled study and they do have a lot of the adult parallels to relate this to.”

Kouider and his colleagues plan to look at even younger babies next, as they try to determine at what age the signal first appears. The results could have implications for expanding our understanding what consciousness is and how it develops in the brain. “It would be neat if you could use infants to figure out what consciousness is because it suddenly appears at some age,” says Eliot.

Kouider says he’s not surprised that consciousness is not as well developed in infants as it is in adults because it requires interplay between the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and sensory brain regions — and during the first three years of life, the connections between those regions aren’t very robust since the PFC and the wiring of those connections are still developing. “If [a perception is] not going to be subliminal, it has to involve the PFC,” he says, “We know from anatomical studies that the PFC is underdeveloped until the second year of life. It’s not nonexistent, it’s just not fully functional.”

(MORE: Real-Time Video: First Look at a Brain Losing Consciousness Under Anesthesia)

The research also has more practical implications. Ideally, the infant studies would enable scientists to trace a trajectory of how consciousness generates. “You can start to use this method very early to basically try to check whether there is normal or abnormal development,” Kouider says. “We know that autistic children can have trouble being aware of faces, and you could imagine this kind of method to diagnose early on whether someone is reacting in a normal way to objects or faces.”

So while the youngest babies may not be conscious of much, they can provide valuable information about how conscious thought emerges, and how it develops over time. And with that understanding, we may learn a great deal about what it means to be aware.

90 comments
aileen123
aileen123

Other measures included phasing out landscape chemicals harmful to the watershed, additional water conservation, further reducing storm water runoff from parking lots and buildings, and incorporating salmon-friendly design in all future campus development.
x-banner barato

jammyyy
jammyyy

I came onto your blog while focusing just slightly submits. Nice strategy for next, I will be bookmarking at once seize your complete rises what is a latex mattress

aileen123
aileen123

This subdivision of the city forms clusters of freedom and facilitates space for individual and group expression. You come away questioning permanence and stability as default conditions for the production of a flourishing urban environment.
voli cuba offerte

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.Getresponse eMail Marketing Service

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Great post i must say and thanks for the information. Education is definitely a sticky subject. However, is still among the leading topics of our time. I appreciate your post and look forward to more.pascal wisniec

tomwatson882
tomwatson882

Yes, great US Military force. Also, in his post you have given a chance to listen about US Military. I really appreciate your work. Thanks for sharing it. girlsdoporn

tomwatson882
tomwatson882

Great post! I am actually getting ready to across this information, is very helpful my friend. Also great blog here with all of the valuable information you have. Keep up the good work you are doing here.
girlsdoporn

aileen123
aileen123

abnormal development,” Kouider says. “We know that autistic children can have trouble being aware of faces, and you could imagine this kind of method to diagnose early on whether someone is reacting in a normal way to objects or faces.”

cambridge trousers,cambridge suits


aileen123
aileen123

those connections are still developing. “If [a perception is] not going to be subliminal, it has to involve the PFC,” he says, “We know from anatomical studies that the PFC is underdeveloped until the second year of life. It’s not nonexistent, it’s just not fully functional.

Direktlink

tomwatson882
tomwatson882

First You got a great blog .I will be interested in more similar topics. i see you got really very useful topics , i will be always checking your blog thanks. 
gift ideas uk

sjaden
sjaden

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

<a href="http://www.therichestrappers.com">rappers 2015</a>


aileen123
aileen123

The National Storm Shelter Association has a website and pamphlet outlining what defines a quality storm shelter for people who are interested in building or purchasing a quality defense against tornadoes.
key lock sequence ebook review

aileen123
aileen123

now is a perfect time to reflect on the lessons from the past when the attention of the Commonwealth’s residents and leaders was focused on transforming transportation planning and policy — and to remind ourselves of the work that remains.
help with talking dirty to my boyfriend

aileen123
aileen123

social media promotin super bowl 2015 super bowl 2015 live streaming Super bowl 2015 predictions Super bowl 2015 date Super girlsdoporn

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the fantasti c lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates.Javier Sanchez Lazaro

aileen123
aileen123

The super new creative actions with the help guide reach many people to record the power game from the service options on the working space.
bubblegum casting

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

I have express a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorite’s blog site list and will be checking back soon…Γυναικεία Παπούτσια

aileen123
aileen123

I simply want to tell you that I am new to weblog and definitely liked this blog site. Very likely I’m going to bookmark your blog . You absolutely have wonderful stories. Cheers for sharing with us your blog.https://www.rebelmouse.com/breakupcurereviews

aileen123
aileen123

fixed angle to light rays, a tactic that we only notice on the occasion when it goes wrong. When the question is rephrased, the mystery evaporates. It never was right to call it suicide; it’s just the application of a good rule of thumb.
girlsdoporn

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

The matter you've highlighted above is surely valueable for anyone to workout. the concept of your article is very true and It will result in a positive way. cheap mens leather jackets

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Very nice blog and articles. I am realy very happy to visit your blog. Now I am found which I actually want. I check your blog everyday and try to learn something from your blog. Thank you and waiting for your new post.Chocolate Cake Houston

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

I most likely appreciating each and every bit of it. It is an incredible site and decent impart. I need to much obliged. Great employment! You all do an incredible blog, and have some extraordinary substance. Keep doing awesome.sell buy here pay here notes

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

I feel really happy to have seen your webpage and look forward to so many more entertaining times reading here. Thanks once more for all the details.old cars for sale online

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the good work. I have been meaning to write something like this on my website and you have given me an idea.used lexus suv houston

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Easily, the article is actually the best topic on this registry related issue. I fit in with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your next updates. luxury used cars

aileen123
aileen123

the de facto communities that have evolved over the last century. Perhaps similar bonds of community will develop over the coming century with increasing awareness of environmental affinities such as watersheds and wetlands.
https://www.rebelmouse.com/the3weekdiet/

aileen123
aileen123

Your content post has excellent value to perform right with sensible marks from the timed actions on the loyal things to produce the same level high
girlsdoporn

IvonneBHatch
IvonneBHatch

The matter you've highlighted above is surely valueable for anyone to workout. the concept of your article is very true and It will result in a positive way. http://www.4xhairremoval.com

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.מצגת לאירועים

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

It is perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I've read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you some interesting things or suggestions. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read more things about it!שיחה חסויה

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Took me time to understand all of the comments, but I seriously enjoyed the write-up. It proved being really helpful to me and Im positive to all of the commenters right here! Its constantly nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I am certain you had enjoyable writing this write-up.זיהוי מספר טלפון

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Through this post, I know that your good knowledge in playing with all the pieces was very helpful. I notify that this is the first place where I find issues I've been searching for. You have a clever yet attractive way of writing.אפליקציה לזיהוי מספר חסוי

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

I most likely appreciating each and every bit of it. It is an incredible site and decent impart. I need to much obliged. Great employment! You all do an incredible blog, and have some extraordinary substance. Keep doing awesome.mleko Nan zaparcia

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Your blogs further more each else volume is so entertaining further serviceable It appoints me befall retreat encore. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates.amway opinie

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

This post is really magnificent. I really like this post. It is one of the best posts that I’ve read in a long time. Thanks a lot for this really good post. I really appreciate it!tablety dla firm

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

This is an excellent post I seen thanks to share it. It is really what I wanted to see hope in future you will continue for sharing such a excellent post.internet mobilny z laptopem

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Wow! Such an amazing and helpful post this is. I really really love it. It's so good and so awesome. I am just amazed. I hope that you continue to do your work like this in the future also.Special Flights

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Good to become visiting your weblog again, it has been months for me. Nicely this article that i've been waited for so long. I will need this post to total my assignment in the college, and it has exact same topic together with your write-up. Thanks, good share.Healthy cosmetic