Why Newborns Are Fascinated With Faces

Perception is reality. From the first time we open our eyes, our experiences of the world and those around us help to shape our view of the world. The ability to perceive faces begins in infancy for most people and drives our development in a certain direction with most of us being drawn to specific types of features from a young age.

Even as infants, we’re hard-wired to seek out safe faces, which we typically deem as having features similar to our primary caregivers. This is an important part of normal social and emotional growth. Of course, in some cases, such as with autistic children, that focus may shift or be different than the average and that lone can change the course of that child's development.

Facial Identification and Infant Development

We, humans, are born hard-wired to seek out meaning in everything we perceive so that we can learn what's safe, what's good, and who we are in the greater scheme of things. We’re curious creatures, and even as infants, we’re drawn to seek out sensory experiences as a way of learning and growing. And, it turns out, that facial recognition is a big part of this.

A study just released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences focuses on the way our brains compartmentalize different forms of information, including how we perceive faces. They found that babies tend to focus on specific types of features in adults, seeking out patterns. Another study found that infants develop certain biases toward familiar features.

Considering other findings, such as the demonstration of bias toward the gender of a baby’s dominant caregiver, the reason becomes obvious: Infants quickly learn to recognize who they can count on for help and safety when they need it.

Facial Recognition and Developmental Milestones

Some children lack that natural fascination with faces and don’t process facial features in the way that we've described above. According to an article published in Spectrum News, children with autism may not distinguish faces or seek out features in the same way. Some may even treat faces like they would any other background object. This can become more evident as a child gets older.

An issue with facial recognition may also be at play where ignoring facial cues is concerned, which makes it difficult for people with autism to read emotions or subtext. Early identification of this tell-tale inattention to faces could help diagnose autism before more overt manifestations of the condition become present, and the earlier the intervention, the better a child’s chances of developing tools to combat this challenge.

The next time you see a baby’s eyes light up in response to your face, consider that they are probably recognizing you as safe. Also know that the very act of seeking out your features is part of the child’s development, one that’s vital to their ability to develop certain skills. Each time they identify you or someone else they know, they’re building on important skills, so give them an animated smile and support their efforts.

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7/6/2020 4:47:09 PM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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