Differential rooting response by neonates: Evidence for an early sense of self

Philippe Rochat*, Susan J. Hespos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


It is proposed that from birth, and long before mirror self-recognition, infants manifest a sense of self as a differentiated and situated entity in the environment. In support of this view, observations are reported suggesting that neonates discriminate between external and self-stimulation. Five newborns and 11 4-week-old infants were observed when they spontaneously brought one hand to their face, touching one of their cheeks (self-stimulation), or when the index finger of the experimenter touched one of the infant's cheeks (external stimulation). Microanalysis revealed that infants responded differentially to the two types of stimulation. Newborns tended to display significantly more rooting responses (i.e., head turn towards the stimulation with mouth open and tonguing) following external compared to self-stimulation. Four-week-old infants demonstrated an opposite pattern. These data are discussed as evidence of an innate ability to discriminate between self versus externally caused stimulation. The differential expression of this ability at birth and at 4 weeks is considered in relation to learning opportunities and the emergence of new functional goals guiding infant behaviour.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-112
Number of pages8
JournalInfant and Child Development
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1997


  • Differentiation
  • External stimulation
  • Neonates
  • Rooting
  • Self-stimulation
  • Sense of self

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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