Baby’s Brain in Week 6
One day you notice Baby staring at Dad’s new black and white bowling shirt, her eyes riveted to the stripes. Another time, you catch her inspecting Aunt Lisa’s black-rimmed glasses: The strong contrast between the frames and face has caught Baby’s attention, and it appears that she’s trying to determine where Auntie’s face and the frames each begin and end.
It’s obvious that your child is looking for certain patterns. But other than faces, what patterns is a baby’s brain programmed to hone in on?
What the Research Shows
To study newborns’ visual responses, a researcher created a device called the “looking chamber,” a box into which different images could be displayed. Infants could lie in a crib and look into the chamber while an observer watched each baby’s eyes, keeping track of how long each child looked at each image.
The babies in this study were shown six different pictures, one at a time. Three featured black-and-white patterns: a face, several concentric circles, and a section of newspaper print. The other three were solid colors: white, fluorescent yellow and dark red. Researchers noted that baby after baby looked about twice as long at the patterned black-and-white pictures as they did at the solid-colored ones: This, researchers surmised, indicated their preference for the patterned ones over the colors. But why?
Well, a newborn’s vision is not perfectly developed at birth: Their eyes don’t focus well yet, so everything in their environment is a bit blurry. Solid-colored items hold babies’ interest less than back-and-white patterned ones because solids just aren’t as distinct-looking: The patterns grab their visual attention. Young babies’ eyes are drawn to contrasts (especially black and white ones), whether polka dots, stripes, checkerboards, or bull’s-eyes.
But more recent research has shown that babies are not truly drawn to black-and-white patterns. They are able to distinguish patterns of contrast. Black and white is 100 percent contrast, however, shades of grey are just as easily distinguished by this age and by 8 weeks they can see all subtle shadings.
Week 6 Brain Booster
When your baby is staring at Grandpa’s specs, it’s important for Gramps to affirm the child by saying, “Oh, you’re looking at Grandpa’s glasses. I’ll stay right here so you can get a good look at them.” By doing so, Grandpa is not only talking to the baby but also talking to himself, showing that he acknowledges and respects the child’s intellectual pursuits.
Most environments offer enough contrasts to stimulate Baby and help her determine the edges around her. But if you’re choosing between a floor blanket with large black and white polka dots and one that’s shades of green camouflage, go with the bolder dot print.
By the time your baby begins to crawl, her vision will be refined so that she can determine the edges around the room, helping her to successfully maneuver around your home.