Have you seen the various high-contrast, black and white toys and books that are marketed as being good for young babies? If so, you might be wondering why high-contrast images – particularly those that are black and white – seem to stimulate infants more than those that are not. 

Babies’ bad vision

When you look at an object, muscles in and around your eye adjust so that a clear image is projected onto the retina – the part of your eye responsible for converting the light to nerve impulses that then go to the brain. 

Vision is one of the senses that is immature at birth. Babies are born with the ability to focus on objects near and away, but that doesn’t mean they do it well. Young infants cannot see well partially because their focus is still being perfected.

Another reason that babies have poor eyesight deals with how much detail is visible to them, also known as their visual acuity. This lack of detail occurs because babies have an underdeveloped fovea, the portion of the retina that contributes to good visual acuity and also to good color vision. 

Just how poor is an infant’s eyesight when compared to that of the average adult?

Young babies have a visual acuity that is about six times worse than adult acuity. But by the time a baby is about nine weeks old, their sensitivity to contrast improves tenfold.

So while it is true that black and white objects are easiest to see for infants (they have the highest contrast possible), by two months of age, their perception is much more acute. Around that age, babies can discern shadows, textures, and colors well. Besides black and white, babies can also distinguish various shades of gray from birth.

Babies prefer to look at borders of things from the time they are born. This means that they will first look at another human’s hair or the edge of their face. By the age of approximately two months, a baby will notice facial features like ears and noses. At four to five months, they will recognize their parents’ faces and can tell them apart from other people. 

So do you need black and white toys or mobiles?

Yes or no to black and white toys?

Research has demonstrated that an environment free of black and white objects stimulates a baby just fine. You might choose to purchase black and white baby things, but they’re definitely not a must-have.

And if you do end up buying black and white toys or books for your child, be sure to give them time to explore the visual world as adults see it – in color. 

You might want to note that when exposed to red, blue, yellow, green, and gray images at two different brightness levels, newborns and older infants alike preferred the colored squares to the gray squares. Newborns also favored darker colors over lighter ones, which was not seen in the other experimental groups. 

When they reach an age of about three months, babies begin to prefer red and yellow (long-wavelength) over blue and green (short-wavelength) shades. The opposite preferences are seen in adults. 

Black and white toys are probably not detrimental to a baby’s visual development, though. The general consensus seems to be that they are not really helpful nor harmful. However, based on the color study, it seems that infants would probably actually rather have colorful toys. 

No matter which path you take, now you know some of the science behind high-contrast baby products! Go on and spread your knowledge.

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Delaney

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