What research says about infant's visual stimulation and its impact on baby's development?


More than 40 years of scientific research points to there being a direct effect of visual development on babies when visually stimulated with high contrasting images. And stimulating visual development from birth helps more than just eyesight, it helps whole brain development too.

It has been found that high-contrast colours are key to visual stimulation in babies. As the retina is not fully developed at birth, due to the brain being disorganised and nerve cells not been completely connected yet, a baby perceive intense colours such as red, blue, pink yellow, purple and green. The retina can only detect large contrasts between light and dark or black and white, compared to an adult who can distinguish between colours, whereas a baby will merge colours together. As babies grow their senses grow, causing nerve cells to multiply and by providing visual stimuli, the babies' retina will thrive, optic nerve cells will grow causing the baby to become stimulated.

Dr Amanda Gummer

Report created in cooperation with Dr Amanda Gummer, Leading Child Psychologist and Expert in play and parenting.


(1) Children respond well to contrasting colours and it has been shown by Dr Sears (2013) that black and white are the most powerful and easiest combination for a baby to recognize due to the sharp contrast causing the strongest visual stimulation. These colours increase curiosity and stimulate brain cell connections meaning that if a baby has stronger stimuli, then they ultimately have better brain growth and faster visual development.

(2) Lewis & Maurer (2009) conducted studies which have shown that visual pattern input straight after birth can play an important role in early visual development, as it preserves the neural infrastructure for children's visual learning in later life and increases sensitivity to basic and high levels of vision. This study supports the idea that newborns babies can recognize their mother very quickly through face recognition. They store this information in their memory in order to effectively retrieve the memory when it is needed. The child requires little viewing of the face, as almost instantly a child recognizes and remembers the face. Therefore, the correlation between exposure and amount of preference is strong.

(3) Daggett anel Cobble (2008) found that children are attracted to colours and this improves attention span, increasing productivity and thus mental stimulation. Colours produce varying physiological responses in a person; blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and brain activity. It has been found that different colours, stimulate or reduce hormone production when interacted with endocrine system. Furthermore, Daggett and Cobble (2008) also found that colour alters alpha brain wave activity, what we would call alertness, moods, energy Ievel and mental clarity. Therefore it is clear that colour has a strong psychological influence, especially on our emotions and feelings, thus there is a direct link between the brain and the body.

(4) (1998) Regional Hemodynamic Responses to Visual Stimulation in Awake Infants - Peadiatric Research

Researchers have repeatedly shown that newborns prefer to look at black and white geometric shapes, rather than bright colors or pastels.

(5) Dr Robert Fantz, (1960) conducted an experiment where he put two objects directly in front of a baby; a patterned black and white checkerboard and a plain grey card. He found that babies had a preference to the black and white geometric checkerboard, meaning that babies prefer bright contrasting colours and geometric shapes, compared to a plain piece of paper with no design. This checkerboard design, although boring to adults, captured children’s attention due to the contrast colours. The striking design allowed children to concentrate and focus on the shape for longer, as it was visually appealing and captured their attention. Source: Fantz, R. "Maturation of Pattern Vision in Young Infants." Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, Vol. 55 (1962), p. 907.

(6) Bower (1977), who is a behavioral scientist supports Fant’z findings. He showed babies black and white shapes as well as plain block white, red and yellow colour cards. He found that babies picked the black and white shapes over the bright cards, as it stimulated them more. Parents could show children coloured cards and see which colour the child is attracted to. Just by exposing children to these contrasting colours in whatever form, coloured shapes, coloured cards, coloured toys will increase brain development and stimulate visual development. Source: Bower, T.G.R., "A Primer of Infant Development. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Co., 1977, p. 9.

(7) Dr. Phillip Salapatek, a child psychologist at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, designed an elaborate electronic tracking device to follow an infant's gaze. He learned that infants move their eyes to the edge of a black triangle on a white background rather than looking at the center of the blackness or whiteness. It was then understood that babies' eyes seek the border because it is there that the contrast between black and white is the greatest. Source: Salapatek, P.H., Kessen, W., "Visual Scanning of Triangles by the Human Newborn.", Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Vol. 3 (1966), pp. 155-67.

(8) More recent research comes from Dr Craig in 2006,which showed high contrast colours, such as black and white are part of a child's vision capabilities. They are able to track contrasting colours due to the stimulation it brings. Source: Dr. Craig, Ron, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, "Infant Physical Development", 2006

(9) Support for face recognition comes from Field et al (1984), who reported that infants who showed an initial preference for their mother's face could become comfortable and familiar to that face almost immediately, and therefore looked at strangers for longer in order to try and remember their face and discriminate against it. Mothers are most often the primary caregiver and thus babies form an immediate attachment with them and babies are able to recognize their mother's voice too and this helps form the facial bond Special modules, such as Conspec and Conlern, can help to explain attention to faces and discrimination amongst faces, but not a familiarity preference (Morton and Johnson 1991).

(10) Chaze and Ludington (1984) found that babies are fond of circular geometrics shapes. One reason why babies prefer circles is because this is the first shape they are exposed to in the breastfeeding process. They begin to recognize the contrast of colours between the nipple and the lighter skin and this is where babies start to recognize the difference in colours and can use this information to distinguish between colours. Source: Chaze, B.A., Ludington, S.M., "Infant Stimulation in the Intensive Care Nursery", American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 84, No. 1, (Jan. 1984, pp. 68-71.)

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