Detection of Intermodal Proprioceptive-Visual Contingency as a Potential Basis of Self-Perception in Infancy

Lorraine E. Bahrick, Florida International University
John S. Watson, University of California, Berkeley


Five-month-old infants can detect the invariant relationship between their own leg motion and a video display of that motion. In three experiments they discriminated between a perfectly contingent live display of their own leg motion and a noncontingent display of self or a peer. They showed this discrimination by preferential fixation of the noncontingent display. This effect was evident even when the infant's direct view of his or her own body was occluded, eliminating video image discrimination on the basis of an intramodal visual comparison between the sight of self-motion and the video display of that motion. These findings suggest that the contingency provided by a live display of one's body motion is perceived by detecting the invariant intermodal relationship between proprioceptive information for motion and the visual display of that motion. The detection of these relations may be fundamental to the development of self-perception in infancy. In addition, though 3-month-olds did not show significant discrimination of the contingent and noncontingent displays, they did show significantly more extreme looking proportions to the two displays than did the 5-month-olds. This may reflect the infant's progression from self to social orientation. © 1985 American Psychological Association.