"Do you feel the same? The development of affective touch sensitivity in early life in a non-clinical sample of parent-infant dyads and a clinical sample of mothers with postnatal depression."
(FWO aspirant fundamental research mandate)
Touch has long been unnaturally omitted from parent-infant research and clinical practice. The long-lasting effects of adverse early experiences for development are well known and associated with early parental touch deprivation. The role an essential subclass of skin fibres – CT-afferents, conducting affective information about gentle touch – plays in these far-reaching effects, is yet unclear. Research relies on retrospective, cross-sectional, and laboratory studies, focusing on either the infant, mother, or at the best the mother-infant dyad, hindering a proper understanding of the development of affective touch in early life related to the context, including that of both parents’—mother ànd father. Also, to gain in-depth insight into the development of CT-afferents and their sensitivity, certain research tools are still missing. Hence, this project aims to study CT-sensitivity dyadically and longitudinally while mapping the developmental context. We will employ a prospective study in healthy parent-infant dyads in the first 9 months of life and a clinical sample of postnatally depressed mothers using familiar psychophysiological and developing novel, remote tools to measure CT-sensitivity. We expect to uncover the existence of a sensitive window for the development of CT-sensitivity and related risk and protective factors, which will strongly advance current science on the development of affective touch, and provide valuable opportunities for prevention and intervention.
Prof. Dr. Martine Van Puyvelde
Prof. Dr. Francis McGlone (Liverpool John Moores University)
Prof. Dr. Merle Fairhurst (Technische Universität Dresden)