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Higher tactile sensitivity in preterm infants at term-equivalent age: A pilot study

Abstract : Despite a growing body of research on perinatal sensory abilities, data on the extent of tactile sensitivity and more particularly passive touch (i.e. sensitivity to a stimulation imposed on the skin) are relatively limited, and the development and processing of tactile function are still thus little known. This question is particularly of high importance for infants with atypical early development such as those born prematurely who are exposed to many sensory (including tactile) stimulations (being in a hospital setting) during a critical period of brain development and those born at early term whose birth occurs at the precise time of cortical reorganization, in particular in the sensory areas. Some parents and health-care providers have for instance reported that children born prematurely exhibit atypical (e.g. higher) sensitivity to “benign” tactile stimuli. In the present study, we hypothesized that preterm and early-term infants may show altered tactile sensitivity. We compared the behavioral responses around term-equivalent age of infants born either pre-term, early-term or at term to the application of a light (0.008 grams) mechanical stimulus. We found that almost all preterm infants perceive this tactile stimulus, contrarily to the two other groups of infants. This extreme tactile sensitivity may be due to experiential, maturational or more likely both processes. We also compared the tactile sensitivity of these infants to that of adults. We found that adults were irresponsive to the light mechanical stimulus. This finding opens not only new insights in understanding development of tactile processing, but also new lines of thought about the particular sensory world of premature and early-term infants and hence about the potential impact of early care practices.
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Vanessa André, Virginie Durier, Alain Beuchée, Jean-Michel Roué, Alban Lemasson, et al.. Higher tactile sensitivity in preterm infants at term-equivalent age: A pilot study. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2020, 15 (3), pp.e0229270. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0229270⟩. ⟨hal-02500757⟩

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