A touch that makes all the difference – exploring the importance of sensory stimulation in infant mental health and cognitive development



Johnson & Johnson is dedicated to help babies around the globe benefit from the groundbreaking, science-based products that Johnson & Johnson has created since launching its iconic line of baby products in 1894. During Infant Mental Health Awareness week we are discussing the importance of sensory stimulation in infant brain development.

In 2017, INFANT, Ireland’s first dedicated perinatal research Centre – based at University College Cork (UCC) and Cork University Maternity Hospital – started an ambitious research collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. This programme, called the Baby Enrichment Research Programme (ENRICH), is co-funded by Johnson & Johnson Consumer and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). It is facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation with the aim of exploring the effects of lifestyle, sensory stimulation, and sleep behaviors on the cognitive development of infants.


The collaboration comprises three interlinked projects:

The first study examines the effects of early life environments of infants, their sleeping pattern and other lifestyle habits on cognitive outcomes.

The second study measures the infant brain response to a standardized gentle touch – stimulus (somatosensory evoked potential). This will be led by Dr Ronit Pressler at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health. Elena Fernandez- Kleinlein, Senior Director, Scientific Innovation, Consumer at Johnson & Johnson Innovation explains, “If we can better understand the impact of multisensory experiences on a baby’s development via a standardised stimulus to the nerves, including how quickly they are relayed back to the brain, we can begin to understand how touch, with a particular intensity, can help the cognitive development of the brain.”



A 4-month old infant in our study whose brainwaves were monitored during his nap. (Image by Clare Keogh, Courtesy of the INFANT Centre)

As part of the study, the researchers carry out an EEG and video recording of the babies having a nap when they are four months old. Electroencephalography (EEG) is a way to monitor and record the electrical activity of the brain. Soft pad sensors are applied to the baby’s head, which then read and record the baby’s brainwaves and sleep patterns. Similar to older children and adults, babies have different types of sleep, both dream-sleep with rapid eye movements (REM) and non-REM sleep.

Finally, an interventional study is being conducted with 150 healthy babies to examine the effects of a structured programme of massage and a night-time routine delivered by parents on the quality and quantity of sleep, and on the babies’ subsequent neurodevelopment. This will be a collaborative project between the INFANT Centre (Ireland) and UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health.

Prof Geraldine Boylan, Director of the INFANT Centre notes, “We want to objectively explore how sensory stimulation and sleep influence brainwave patterns and  later neurodevelopment. The ENRICH collaboration between Johnson & Johnson Innovation and INFANT will provide researchers, and ultimately families, with unique evidence about these simple interventions in infancy that may have the potential to enhance early brain development.”

Learn more about the ENRICH study by visiting www.infantcentre.ie/enrich

Funded in partnership with Science Foundation Ireland