Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Intermodal matching by human neonates


Normal human adults judge two identical objects to have the same shape even when they are perceived through different modalities, such as touch and vision. The ontogenesis of man's capacity to recognise such intermodal matches has long been debated. One hypothesis is that humans begin life with independent sense modalities and that simultaneous tactual and visual exploration of shapes is needed to learn to correlate the separate tactual and visual sense impressions of them1–3. A second hypothesis is that the detection of shape invariants across different modalities is a fundamental characteristic of man's perceptual–cognitive system, available without the need for learned correlations4–7. Recent research has shown that 6–12-month-old infants can recognise certain tactual–visual matches8–11. However, such data cannot help resolve the classic theoretical debate. Infants of this age repeatedly reach out and touch objects they see, and such simultaneous bimodal exploration presumably offers ample opportunity for learning to correlate tactual and visual sense impressions. The experiments reported here show that humans can recognise intermodal matches without the benefit of months of experience in simultaneous tactual–visual exploration. We demonstrate that 29-day-old infants can recognise which of two visually perceived shapes matches one they previously explored tactually, thus supporting the second hypothesis listed above.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Locke, J. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Basset, London, 1690).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Berkeley, G. An Essay Toward a New Theory of Vision (Pepyat, Dublin, 1709).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Piaget, J. The Origins of Intelligence (Norton, New York, 1952); The Construction of Reality (Basic, New York, 1954); Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood (Norton, New York, 1962).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Gibson, J. J. The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems (Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1966).

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Gibson, E. J. Principles of Perceptual Learning and Development (Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1969).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Bower, T. G. R. Development in Infancy (Freeman, San Francisco, 1974).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Meltzoff, A. N. & Moore, M. K. Science 195, 75–78 (1977).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Bryant, P. E., Jones, P., Claxton, V. & Perkins, G. M. Nature 240, 303–304 (1972).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Bryant, P. E. Perception and Understanding in Children (Methuen, London, 1974).

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Gottfried, A. W., Rose, S. A. & Bridger, W. H. Child Dev. 48, 118–123 (1977).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Ruff, H. A. & Kohler, C. J. Infant Behav. Dev. 1, 259–264 (1978).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Fagan, J. F. J. exp. Child Psychol. 9, 217–226 (1970).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Fantz, R. L., Fagan, J. P. & Miranda, S. B. in Infant Perception : From Sensation to Cognition, (eds Cohen, L. G. & Salapatek, P.) 249–345 (Academic, New York, 1975).

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Meltzoff, A., Borton, R. Intermodal matching by human neonates. Nature 282, 403–404 (1979).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing