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Growing into your hand: the developmental trajectory of the body model

Abstract

We rely on accurate body representations to successfully interact with the environment. As adults, we rely on many years of experience with a body that has stayed relatively the same size. Children, however, go through periods of rapid growth and whether or not their body representation matches this physical growth is unknown. To address this question, we examined the developmental trajectory of the body model of the hand. The body model is the representation of our bodies that underlies position sense. We recruited a group of children (8–16 years) and a control group of young adults (18–26 years) and asked them to complete the body model task. In this task, participants estimated the location of ten different landmarks (the tips and metacarpophalangeal joints of each of their five fingers). The position (XY location) of each estimate was tracked using an Optotrak camera. From the XY locations we derived hand width and finger length. Not surprisingly, children’s physical hand width and finger length were smaller than adults but remarkably, the body model, was similar for both groups. This result indicates that children overestimate hand size and suggests that the body model is ahead of physical growth. This result contradicts the notion that body representation lags physical growth during puberty, accounting for the clumsy motor behaviour characteristic of teens. We discuss the results in relation to the different taxonomies of body representation and how an enlarged representation of the hand during childhood may influence action.

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Correspondence to Lara A. Coelho.

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Communicated by Melvyn A. Goodale.

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Coelho, L.A., Gonzalez, C.L.R. Growing into your hand: the developmental trajectory of the body model. Exp Brain Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-021-06241-2

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Keywords

  • Body model
  • Development
  • Hand
  • Body representation
  • Children