Infant cognitive development: Learning to recognize colors

Color recognition occurs at six months and beyond when infants first begin begins combining images from both eyes resulting in greater depth perception.
When Lisa, 32, brought her daughter, Emily, home from the hospital for the first time, the thing that amazed her was the level of alertness in that tiny diapered individual. Faces fascinated the little infant; she was quiet content to just lay there in her mother’s arms and gaze at her face for hours. Within weeks, however, she was totally mesmerized by anything dark and extremely high contrast, that included patterns of her own dress, her little cloth book, the dark drapes in the living room with yellow flowers. Unbeknown to her mother, Emily’s visual skills were already evolving.

In-Utero Vision

The sense of sight forms in babies very early on although the eyes are fused shut before 26 weeks of gestation. Scientists now believe that babies start dreaming as early as 30 weeks gestation, spending more time in that state than awake.

Birth-Motion and Sensitivity

Infant cognitive development: Learning to recognize colors

Although born with a limited visual system, that faculty in babies evolves rapidly during the first year of life. Movement is the first visual stimulus that babies experience. Sensitivity to light is extremely low. An infant’s light detection threshold at one month of age is about 50 times greater that that of an adult; by 3 months, it is only 10 times higher that an adult’s. This is due to the increased length of the photoreceptors.

2 months – Inaccurate Focusing/Early Color Vision

Before two months of age, an infant would seem to be looking at both distant and close objects, yet her eyes do not focus accurately. Infants lack depth in visual perception because the images formed at the back of eyes at that stage are flat and two dimensional. Although a four week old infant would clearly distinguish a red object from a green one when held close. Pastel shades are lost on infants at this stage since the neurons in their eyes that differentiate colors are still evolving.

3-5 Months – Primitive Contrast Sensitivity

Around three to five months of age, the neurons in the brain of the babies begin combining images from both eyes resulting in greater depth perception. Infants can now see shades of gray provided the distinction is acute. They also benefit from constant visual stimulation in the environment.

6 Months and Beyond – The Colorful World of Baby

Visually processing details in patterns (vernier acuity, i.e., the degree to which a pair of fine lines can be aligned to each other) is at a lower level than an adults even beyond 6 months. Babies do, however, respond to various colors and show preference for some colors over others. This can be regarded as the first stage of basic color recognition in infants.

Well Visit Checkups

In the first year, babies’ eyes are checked at every well visit. Doctors are particularly looking to rule out strabismus or crossed eyes, affecting about 5% of all children. Many newborns eyes appear to wander because they haven’t yet learned to focus their vision, which is why crossed eyes are rarely cause for concern until a baby is at least a four months of age. If strabismus isn’t properly treated, it can cause amblyopia, a condition that can cause the muscles of one side of the eye to pull more than the other side and if left untreated can cause the brain to stop receiving visual images from that eye altogether. This can cause permanent vision loss. Doctors also check for astigmatism, which is normal in infants and corrects itself naturally in the first six months. If this does not occur within the first 2 years, it may also cause amblyopia.

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