Babies able to recognise photographs of objects at nine months old, study finds

Health Reporter

Babies begin to recognise real-life objects from photographs at just nine-months-old, according to a new study carried out by scientists from the UK and the USA.

Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the University of South Carolina, showed 30 babies aged between eight and nine months a life-size photograph of a toy for one minute.

The real-life toy was then presented to the babies, alongside a different toy. The babies reached for the new toy, which, the researchers said, suggested that they recognised the pictured toy and found it less interesting than the new one, “because its novelty had worn off”.

In a separate part of the experiment, carried out at Royal Holloway’s specialised ‘baby lab’, the babies’ attention was drawn to both toys, which were then placed in containers and hidden from view. In this instance, the babies went for the toy they had seen in the picture – suggesting that they had formed an image of it in their mind, the researchers said.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Child Development, and authored by Dr Jeanne Shinskey and Liza Jachens at Royal Holloway. Dr Shinskey, from the college’s department of psychology, said that the findings would be of interest to any parent or care-giver who has read a picture book to their infant.

“These findings suggest that, well before their first birthdays and their first words, babies are capable of learning about the real world indirectly from picture books, at least those that have very realistic images like photographs,” she said.

“One brief exposure to a picture of a toy affects infants’ actions with the real toy by the time they reach nine-months-old. It also demonstrates that experience with a picture of something can strengthen babies’ ideas of an object so they can maintain it after the object disappears - so out of sight is not out of mind.”

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