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Anyone who stares into the shining eyes of a baby of any age can sometimes convince themselves that they see great wisdom reflected back at them. That little baby frown which gazes up at us seems to be full of aeons of knowledge, and the fact that they cannot communicate with you in any other way makes you wonder what is going on in that little head.
Research into the any aspect of baby psychology has always been limited. You can not directly ask a little one what they can see, and you have to wait until they are looking where you want. But with new techniques and equipment, scientists can use a harmless electrode cap to monitor the activity of the brain directly. So, instead of having to ask whether a baby can see what is being shown, the electrodes can pick up a signal directly from the visual cortex – the part of your brain towards the back of your head which decodes the visual information and lets us understand what we see.
What Can Babies Actually See?
It is thought that very young babies of around 2 months or so, can not really control the muscles of the eye which help them to focus on objects in front of them. So, in the very early stages, if an object happens to fall into the part of their vision which is in focus, then they can see it. Then from about 3 months, they can start to focus, slowly experimenting with changing the way their muscles work, sometimes in front of and sometimes behind the thing they are trying to look at. This is not a conscious action, of course, but they do start to gain more control over it.
Focus is not the only thing. Their little baby retinas are not quite fully developed until at least four and half to five months. So, even if they can make their eye muscles focus and look at an object, the nerve cells in their retinas are not able to transmit a perfect image to the brain. It is also not confirmed whether a very young baby can see in color.
‘But my baby looks right at me!’ a young mother will exclaim. It is possible that your baby is responding to many different signals from you: Your hairline is very important, as the high contrast between your face and hair is very attractive to a young, developing observer, and she will soon learn to recognize that pattern. She will also be responding to your voice of course, and movement and warm, cozy snuggles. So all the input together adds up to a baby who looks as if they are responding to you when you sit in front of them and hold up their favorite cuddly bunny baby toy.