Infant Development: Chapter I: Sense, Motor Development, and Cognitive Development

This will be the first in a series of writeups on the development of an infant, following the physical and psychological changes up into early childhood.

It has been brought to my attention that some fellow noders wonder what my inspriration, or driving goal is behind this project. Just recently, my older brother and his wife had a beautfiul little daughter, and watching her grow and learn is an amazing thing. Looking upon this tiny life inspired me to learn more about infants and young children, hence these writeups. These writeups are not perfect, the titles are perhaps lacking, the information could always be more bountiful, and it could perhaps be less dry. All I ask is that you bear with me, in the pursiut of knowledge, and further understanding of these wonderful, amazing babies.

An infant is truly an amazing thing. A tiny life, made whole from a process originating with a microscopic sperm and egg. However, many wonder how an infants mind develops in this stage. Is the baby smiling because he/she is happy? When he or she looks at you, do they actually SEE you? Do the eyes twinkle because of his/her startling intelligence? Let us take a look at some of the senses that are developed, and the approximate age that they are complete.


Vision – This is the least developed of the senses at the outset. Neonates will have some vision, namely, they will mainly pay attention to objects that contrast to the rest of the surrounding environment, such as varying levels of brightness. Newborn babies can also sense colors, and according to studies, also appear to prefer certain colors, namely, blue and green. They tend to stare longer at objects with these two colors, perhaps suggesting an affinity to such colors. They are also able to distinguish between the primary colors, and green. The vision will be fully developed in six months.

Hearing – Newborn babies can actually hear from birth, however, hearing from the womb is not confirmed, and is still controversial. From birth, infants will become startled by loud and sudden noises, and become familiar to certain sounds. Within three days a baby will be able to distinguish its mother’s voice. Interestingly enough, if a baby hears a recording of itself crying, it has a higher probability to stop crying, because it is familiar with the sound. (Study done by: Martin & Clark, 1982)

Smell – Newborns also have the ability to smell from birth. They are able to distinguish their mothers odor, and are attracted to the scent of breast milk. They can actually be comforted by the familiar scent of their mother, or of their surroundings.

Taste – Newborns are known to become more physically active and suck if they smell peppermint (should be near the nose). Also, if they are confronted with something that tastes sour, they will react by puckering up their lips, and with varying facial expressions. Just try it for yourself! It should be noted that they enjoy sugary things. (Study done by: Marlier, Schaal, & Soussignan, 1998)

Touch – Infants are very sensitive to touch, responding to human touch, to the touch of hairs of a brush, even responding to such subtle stimuli as a puff of air that would escape the notice of an adult. In other words, they are very sensitive to touch at this age.

Motor Development:

As an infant, they primarily have reflexes. Remember, a reflex means that there is no thinking process involved.

Survival Reflexes – These are reflexes that are key to an infants survival, but many do not actually know this when they see them take place. Some examples of this would be breathing, hiccups, vomiting, sucking anything that is placed in its lips., and rooting, which is when the baby will turn its head in the direction of a source of stimulation, such as a brief touch near the mouth, because it is related to eating, and helps guide the infant towards potential food sources (breast, bottle).

To help give a few other examples of normal development among infants, here is a sample excerpt from the Bayley Scales of Infant Development:

2 Months – Holds head erect/steady for 15 seconds. Sits with support.

6 Months – Sits alone for 30 seconds. Grasps foot with hands.

12 Months – Walks with help. Grasps pencil in middle.

17-19 Months – Stands alone on right foot. Walks up stairs with help.

23-25 Months – Laces 3 beads. Jumps distance of 4 inches.

38 -42 Months – Copies circle. Hops twice on one foot. Walks down stairs, alternating feet.

(Source: Bayley, N. (1993). Bayley scales of infant development (BSID-II), 2nd Ed. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.)

Now, if your child isn’t meeting the same time table as listed above DO NOT PANIC. Every child is different, and there is no general chart that can possibly apply to all of them. Just let your infant grow at their own pace, and if you have any real serious concerns, I suggest taking them to a licensed pediatrician.

Cognitive Development:

Due to the already extensive noding on Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, I ask that you please visit these fine nodes for more information on the subject:

Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development

Go to Infant Development: Chapter 2

Sources: Lecture notes from my Developmental Psychology class taught by S. Harrison. Feldman, S. Robert. Development Across the Life Span (3rd Ed). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.

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