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 Amodal perception

Among other things, The Attachment Research Center have been engaged in doing research on a fascinating issue, that of the way we perceive the world through our senses. In actual fact, infants' percetual world our group found confirmatory of earlier findings by researchers from England, Australia, Germany, the US and Russia.

Old Bertrand Russell's intimation that the perceptual ways were inextricably intertwined before birth (The Analysis of Matter, 1927), appeared enhanced from the empirical corroboration that infants are capable to connect experiences so that they recognize that something seen, heard and touched may in fact be the same thing. (There's plenty of bibliography: Melzoff and Moore, 1984, Maratos, 1989, Uggins, 1984; Trevarthen, 1963-1996, Stern 1985-1995. If you happened to be interested in reading something on this stuff, I can further full references).

Working on our own and in cooperation with Drs. Lewis and Trevarthen, we published a paper were we reflect the subjective experiences of very young infants. We came to the conclusion that infants experience a world of perceptual unity, in which they can perceive amodal qualities in any modality (hearing, touch, sight, kinesthesia, cynesthesia, and so on) from any form of human expressive behaviours. represent these qualities abstractally, and then transpose them to other modalities.

Music is endowed with an ideal modality to convey qualities of emotion and cognition that they would otherwise prove elusive: these elusive qualities are better captured by dynamic, kinetic terms, such as "surging", "fading away", "fleeting", "explosive", "crescendo", " decrescendo", "bursting", "drawn out", and so on.

The philosopher Suzanne Langer ("Feeling: An Essay on Human Understanding", 3 volumes) insisted that in any experience-near psychology, close attention must be paid to the many "forms of feeling" inextricably involved with al the vital processes of life, such as breathing, getting hungry, falling asleep and emerging out of sleep, or feeling the coming and going of emotions and thoughts.

Needless to say, what we first found in infants we later recognized in a variety of complex perceptual experiences in adults.

Coherence of Temporal structure

Time provides an organizing structure that helps identify different entities. The many behaviours invariably performed by a person share a common temporal structure, which has been labelled self-synchrony which refers to the fact that separate parts of the body such as limbs, torso, and face, move together sychronously to a split second, whereby I mean that starts, stops and changes in direction or speed in a muscle group occur synchronously with starts, stops and changes in other muscle groups, be they agonistic or antagonistic.

Furthermore, these changes in movement occur simultaneously with natural speech at the phonemic output (Chomsky, 1969), such that the temporal structure of self-sychronous behaviour is like an orchestra, in which the body is the conductor and the voice the music.

Try to pat your head, rub your belly, and count at the same time, and you will experiment that violating temporal coherence is attainable at the cost of a great deal of effort and concentration.

All the stimuli, be they auditory, visual, tactile or propioceptive emanating from the self share a common time structure.

Now this ability to amalgamate oneís own senses temporally overlaps with the ability to discern them from the perception of similarities and differences in what is seen and heard in another person. Such a capacity seems to be hereditary in nature and can be observed very early in life.

Spelke (1984) has reported that infants are responsive to temporal congruity between auditory and visual stimuli, matching events synchronously across sensory modalities: amodally. She presented four-month-olds with two animated cartoon videos played back side by side, placing the sound track midway between the two TV monitors. The infants could tell which video was synchronous with the sound track, thereby preferring to watch the sound-synchronous film. Infants invariably display the ability to grasp synchrony across perceptive modes, no matter whether they are both visual, visual and auditory, propioceptice and auditory (as in the case of rhythm and dance) (Lawson 1990).

Our own studies have shown that infants as young as two months old will notice a discrepancy of about 40 milliseconds between sight and sound that are expected to be paired, such as in lip reading (Garelli 1990).

It follows that infants act as though two events sharing the same temporal structure belong together. Naturalistically, the stimuli provided by human behaviour which share a common temporal structure belong to an entity that is distinct by virtue of its unique temporal organization. Moreover, we have carried out prospective observations that extend these findings to the propioceptive senses. Propioceptive perception is not underscored in an audiovisual society as the one we live in. However, musicians and ballet dancers generally are better furnished to become aware of their propiocetive perceptual world. Just as infants, who have no idea of the extension of human capacity to modify the environment, and who inhabit a sensory world in which perception is integrated, as opposed to the split sensory world of adults. Infants recognize the patterns of sound, sights, touches, bodily sensations emanating from posture and movement, from striped musculature from their own and are able to match sound with movement and with bodily sensations. Hence the deep nature of rhythm and sensory wholeness.

Finally, we have studied the interactions that take place between infant and mother, particularly during the first year of life, and have set up followup programmes to check out whether observable interference by motherís own temporal structure not being attuned to the childís rhythm during any kinf of daily interchange, such as playing, feeding, bathing, cuddling, following, crying, calling, smiling, and so on, might distort the childís image of mother or self. We have found strong correlations between attuned mothers who communicate with the infant via all these channels as a whole, and mothers who are absent-minded and permanently interfere with temporal structure: they donít keep the beat, albeit the child makes ostensible efforts to bring mother down to earth, some mothers are unable to follow the childís rhythm and sing another song or introduce noise into the relationship.


Chomsky, Noam (1969), Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. The M.I.T. Press

Garelli, Juan Carlos (1990) Mother-infant rhythmical sensory attunements. Infant Psychology, 3, 2, 105-135.

Lawson, K. R. (1990), Spatial and temporal congruity and auditory-visual integration in infants. Developmental Psychology, 16, 185-192

Spelke, E. S. (1984) The development of intermodal perception. In L.B. Cohen (Ed.), Handbook of infant perception, New York: The Academic Press.

Stern, Daniel, (1985). The Interpersonal World of the Infant. New York: Basic Books


The articles on this section take for granted the ocassional reader has studied and grasped the very basics of Attachment Theory, whereby I mean they have studied and learned John Bowlby's and Mary Ainswoth's writitings in depth. Nevertheless, If you do not belong in this category, you are encouraged to read on, just in case what you find in this section of the Attachment Research Center home page encourages you to keep deepening on these issues we deem crucial for human beings' survival and mental health.

I f you are interested further and want to resort to germane bibliography to these theories about socio-emotial development, please don't hesitate to write to us by clicking here.

Just by this time, Attachment Theory is no longer what it used to be 30 years ago. Dozens of founding tenets have been arbitrarily replaced by beliefs akin to our irrational times. Now I deem it impossible to overemphasize the fact that one cannot be both irrational and adhere to Bowlby's theory of affectional bonds.

We face the awkward situation to do our best to make people become aware that the so-called Attachment evolution is but a backtrack move to Pre-Bowlbyian times. As I don't think this is the best of places to discuss these issues at length, I simply wanted to lay emphasis on the fact that the so-called self-appointed Post-Bowlbyian "Modern Consensus" boils down to a circuituous way of deviating from Bowlby's rigorous stance about laborious adherence to the Scientific Methodology by adopting the speculative, armchair thinking of resorting to introspective instruments or tools, such as the AAI or others, which by the simple expedient of interviewing an adult for a few hours, direct observations of child-environment interactions can be dispensed with. I will elaborate at length on this important issue in another document that will soon be added to the Attachment Research Center Home Page.

We will be filling up the gaps as regards the evolution of Attachment Theory and its associate disclplines: A Darwinian approach to development, and the firm and rigorous observance of the Scientific Method as applied to any other Science, by way of successive deliveries.

Contributions to the Attachment Research Page are welcome. Please e-mail them to Juan Carlos Garelli  or Eliana Montuori