When Can Babies Recognize Faces?

When Can Babies Recognize FacesArya is now old enough to focus her attention on people’s faces.

Since I can’t tell why she is staring, I was curious to know: when can babies recognize faces?

Surprisingly, research shows that newborn babies can recognize their mother’s face within hours after birth as long as they have had time to associate their mother’s voice with their mother’s face.

Less data is available on when babies begin to recognize the face of their father or other relatives.

Two prominent studies highlight newborn babies’ preference for human faces while another study found that newborns as young as 12 hours old responded more to a picture of their mother than one of a stranger. Follow-up studies confirmed the basic finding although some noted limiting effects of disguises. Newborns may need to connect their mother’s voice with her face in order to recognize their mother.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reiterates the findings of academic studies by confirming that babies prefer human faces from birth, but notes that it might be months before babies recognize and respond to non-primary caregivers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention produces a .pdf pamphlet which indicates that babies should try to look at their parents by 2 months old.

My daughter liked to look at different faces from the first moments after she opened her eyes. At the hospital our baby loved to look at both mommy and daddy during the few seconds when she opened her eyes. Once we got home, baby stared at every face she met. The picture above and video below show her at three days old intently staring into the faces of our friends. So at least for my baby, the answer to “when can babies recognize faces” is within hours after birth.


American Academy of Pediatrics

Bartrip, Morton, and de Schonen (2001), Responses to mother’s face in 3-week to 5-month-old infants, British Journal of Developmental Psychology

Bushnell (2001), Mother’s face recognition in newborn infants: learning and memory, Infant and Child Development

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Johnson, Dziurawiec, Ellis, and Morton (1991), Newborns’ preferential tracking of face-like stimuli and its subsequent decline, Cognition

Pascalis and de Schonen (1995), Mother’s face recognition by neonates: a replication and an extension, Infant Behavior and Development

Sai (2005), The role of the mother’s voice in developing mother’s face preference: evidence for intermodal perception at birth, Infant and Child Development

Slater and Quinn (2001), Face recognition in the newborn infant, Infant and Child Development

Valenza, Simion, Cassia, and Umilta (1996), Face preference at birth, Journal of Experimental Psychology

Walton, Bower, and Bower (1992), Recognition of familiar faces by newborns, Infant Behavior and Development

This Post Has One Comment

Leave a Reply