Ever wonder what your newborn sees in those early days of life? We know a little, mostly that their vision is pretty limited in the beginning and that they can see more shades of light and dark as their pupils begin to enlarge. But what this actually looks like has been a bit of a mystery to us parents. Until now.
Researchers at Norway's University of Oslo and Sweden's Uppsala University and Eclipse Optics teamed up to show us just how much (or little) a newborn can see. As suspected, a two- or three-day-old can make out faces and maybe even expressions from 8 to 12 inches away (or about 30 centimeters). But double that distance and the image is far too blurry for them to see.
Check out the illustration for yourself:
Unlike other attempts to understand infant vision, this study relied on video, since a moving image is easier to see than a still one. Researchers recorded people changing expressions – from happy to surprised to angry to neutral – and filtered out any details that they know are unavailable to babies (like color). Then they showed the videos to adults, with the idea being that if they couldn't make out the filtered expression, the chances were good that a baby couldn't either. The grown-ups correctly named expressions in three out of the four cases at 30 centimeters, though they struggled to identify them all from 120 centimeters away. This confirmed for researchers that babies can see the expressions and faces of the person holding them an arm's length away.
But the study, which was published in the Journal of Vision, does more than just fill in the blanks for new parents. It could also explain how newborns can mimic our expressions in the early weeks of their lives, when their vision is still developing. Still, more studies are needed to fine-tune and build on this research, says Svein Magnussen, study co-researcher and University of Oslo professor emeritus. "It's important to remember that we have only investigated what the newborn infant can actually see, not whether they are able to make sense of it," he says.
Still, it's fascinating to get a peek into what, exactly, our babies are able to see. Personally, I was a little surprised at how blurry the images appear even at 30 centimeters. (I always assumed my son could see me more clearly than that!) But how about you? Does this illustration match up with what you had in mind? Any surprises there? Tell us in the comments below!
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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.
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Illustration courtesy of Professor Bruno Laeng at the Department of Psychologoly, University of Oslo