Research investigating attention in infancy has revealed that, at just four months old, babies are able to organise visual information in at least three different ways, according to brightness, shape, and how close the visual elements are together (proximity). These new findings mean that very young infants are much more capable of organising their visual world than psychologists had previously thought. The study also has implications for understanding certain developmental disorders such as Williams syndrome.
The findings emerged from Economic and Social Research Council funded research investigating different styles of visual attention in babies from the age of two to eight months. Paying attention to visual stimuli is important in the development of object recognition, and is also needed for the development of memory, motor skills and other key abilities. Led by psychologists Dr Emily Farran at the University of Reading and Dr Janice Brown at London South Bank University, the initial aim of the research was to investigate the underlying reasons why some babies are ‘short-lookers’ and shift visual attention rapidly, while others are ‘long-lookers’ who keep their attention fixed for longer.
Previously, these categories were thought to be relatively stable traits indicative of individual differences, with links to later cognitive development. However, the research revealed that babies often move between these two categories over the timescale studied. “The literature talks about the short-looking and long-looking categories, and links to later abilities are suggested. Unusually, we looked at this longitudinally, so we were able to pick up that these categories weren’t stable” says Dr Farran. “So these differences can’t be indicative of differential brain development, or predictive of later abilities.”
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