Did you know that babies start recognising real-life objects in photos around nine months? That’s earlier than we previously thought! These findings were from a study by the University of Royal Holloway London in conjunction with the University of South Carolina.
During this study, a life-size photograph of a toy was shown to 30 babies aged between eight and nine months for one minute. When the toy was then presented to the babies in real life along with a different toy, the babies preferred to reach for the new toy, which according to the researchers signalled that the babies recognised the toy that had been in the picture and found it less interesting than the one that they had not seen before.
These findings are significant because they indicate that babies are “capable of learning about the real world directly from picture books”, according to Dr Shinskey, the author of the paper. This holds especially true for the books that contain very realistic images, such as photographs.
However, babies being able to recognise objects and other human beings in real life as well as in photographs might not mean that they recognise themselves just yet. While object permanence kicks in at about five months, which teaches your little one that you exist even when they can’t see you, self-recognition comes a little later than recognising familiar people and objects.
An easy test that most parents can do for their little ones is by using a mirror. While most babies love looking at themselves in the mirror while drooling or babbling or laughing, it’s not usually until they hit the 18-month mark that they realise that the baby they have been seeing regularly is themselves.
Prior to that point, any joy the baby exhibits upon seeing their reflection has been theorised to be social activity more than anything else – think of it as your baby’s way of saying hello to a familiar face!
Changing your baby’s appearance by adding something new is the fastest way to tell if they recognise themselves in the mirror – and by extension, photographs – yet. A playful way that some parents test this out is by smearing a little drop of chocolate on Baby’s nose.
If your little one reaches out to try and rub the smear the mirror, they are not quite there just yet, which is totally fine. However, if they reach up and wipe it off their own nose, that’s when you know that they know exactly who they are looking at in the mirror.
But why does self-recognition take so long to develop? That’s because your little one has to discover that they are a separate member of the family first, establishing self-awareness before they learn that the other mini-human in the mirror is really just themselves. Once they are familiar with their own reflections, most toddlers can start pointing themselves out in photographs, alongside other recognisable human beings and objects.
So mark your calendars and get those cameras and photo albums ready – once your little one has self-recognition down pat, they’ll be able to recognise themselves in photographs alongside all their favourite family members and toys!