Babies Recognize Faces Way Sooner Than You'd Think
Plus, other fascinating research into your baby's brain.
The web has gone gaga for a video of an adorable baby meeting his mother's twin for the first time. It's fascinating to see little Felix eagerly greeting her, then staring fixedly at his mom as if to say, "Wait, lady, you're my mom."
Turns out that children are able to recognize distinct faces at a very young age, per new research just out this week.
Scientists at the University of Louvain in Belgium outfitted 15 babies ages 4 to 6 months with caps fitted with electrodes, then showed them a rapid succession of images of faces mixed in with images of animals, plants, and objects such as a lamp and a phone. Seeing the faces triggered a spike in the right hemisphere of the brain, the area responsible for facial recognition.
There's been interesting prior research on babies and facial recognition, too, including the much-referenced (and somewhat depressing) 1991 University of Texas at Austin study showing that babies prefer to look at attractive faces. Even newborns showed the same preference, per a 2000 study published in Infancy, proving—as psychologist Alan Slater, PhD, noted—that "attractiveness is not simply in the eye of the beholder, it's in the eye of the infant right from the moment of birth, and possibly before birth."
But here's some reassuring news for anyone less than perfect (i.e., a lot of us): Babies prefer plump bodies, per a 2013 study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. When shown photos of both muscular models and ordinary chubby men, babies consistently fixated on the beer-gut guys. The researchers' conclusion: During infancy, preferences for human shapes are a reflection of familiarity and exposure, as opposed to cultural stereotypes of attractiveness.