Idaho CareLine: Dial 2-1-1 or 800-926-2588
Born to Bond!
Ever notice how attracted babies are to people? Whether they’re looking at adults, children, or other babies, there’s nothing as interesting to an infant as people and what they’re doing. If you look carefully, you can see the pattern from baby’s first days.
If you see a newborn looking around, it’s clear they have some visual limitations. However, most of the problem with infants’ vision is the short depth of field they have. That is, things look fuzzy if they’re too far or too close. But newborn vision is pretty good if the target is just the right distance away. And what distance does that turn out to be? About as far as the distance to the face of a person who is cradling the infant in his or her arms. What a convenient set-up for building the baby-caregiver relationship. Adults who hold their baby in a warm loving position are rewarded by a look of visual recognition from the little one. Plus, babies get time to gaze at that loving adult’s face.
And what could be a more interesting visual image to an infant than the human face? Scientists have offered very young babies a choice between looking at a human face and many other interesting alternatives. The face wins out every time. Babies like looking at people’s faces — pure and simple.
It turns out that baby hearing also reinforces the bond to others. Infant hearing is pretty good at birth, but the best auditory acuity of all is in the range of the human voice. When mom, dad, brother, or sister coo or talk to baby, the sounds they make are heard better by that infant than the other sounds in the environment. Once again babies are naturally tuned in to humans — another bond builder between infants and their caregivers.
To top it off, newborns seem to know that those giants out there, the ones who pick them up, talk to them and carry them around, are like they are. Note that this is no small problem in recognition. Grown-ups walk and babies don’t, they’re a lot bigger than babies are, they make different noises than babies do, and dress differently from babies. Plus they’re not nearly as cute.
What makes people think babies know they’re like the grown-ups around them? Because they imitate them. If a grown-up sticks a tongue out at a baby, even a newborn will stick out his or her tongue in response. What’s it take for this to happen? The baby needs to know that he or she has body parts matching the adult’s, in this case a tongue. Most likely this baby has never seen his or her tongue and yet is able to stick it out in imitation. Imitation is also a powerful bond between infants and adults. Adults can get as much enjoyment imitating babies as infants get from imitating adults.
This all adds up to a powerful package of skills and preferences babies have from birth that function as a magnet between them and the adults and children around them. Babies respond to human interaction with attention, recognition, even imitation. Mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, and friends are all enthralled by this responsiveness and come back for more. And, of course, this system of mutual attraction functions to provide babies with just the warm and stimulating environment they need for development.
Article written by: Harriet Shaklee Ph.D., Family Development Specialist, UI Cooperative Extension.
Help Children Develop a Love of Reading
Active Parenting Topic Area