Somewhere in our heads, a constant mental narrative tells us where we are, if we’re upside down, where our physical self stops and where the surrounding world begins. Body awareness, also called the body schema or corporeal awareness, is essential for a host of functions that don’t get much attention—everything from knowing we’re laying down to recognizing our 10-year-old selves in a photograph. “Brains like that stability because it would be very confusing to go through life otherwise,” explains Dr. Perminder Sachdev, neuropsychiatrist and author of The Yipping Tiger.
According to recent studies, it’s something we might be born with. Maria Laura Filippetti, of the University of London’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, showed rudimentary body awareness in babies by stroking their cheeks with soft brushes. When her tiny subjects saw videos of babies’ faces being stroked with similar brushes, they took more notice. The researcher’s conclusion was that the babies understood how the experience in the video was the same as their own.