When a newborn is welcomed into the world, friends and family flock to give gifts to the baby, from clothes to toys and playthings. There is an abundance of brightly-coloured products for babies, but do they really enjoy the colours we think they do, or is it true they prefer black and white?
It has been said that babies can only focus on objects eight to 10 inches in front of their faces, but this is not correct. As an object is placed in front of the baby, the ciliary muscles contract or relax the surface of the lens in the eye so the object can be projected onto the retina clearly. Babies are able to fully focus objects, but they do not have very good control over their ciliary muscles at this young age.
After roughly two months, babies learn how to properly control their ciliary muscles so they can focus objects near and far.
However, babies’ visual acuity (ability to see detail) is why they can’t see particularly clearly. Although all parts of the eye fully intact (excluding the retina), the brain is not yet mature enough to cope with clear vision. As a result, babies see blurry objects.
Black and white images with the highest possible contrast are stimulating for babies. Large geometric patterns and pictures will help babies engage with what they are looking at. Once again owing to the brain, babies do not have a high sensitivity to colour as receptors and nerves in our eyes that are usually sensitive to colour are not yet fully mature in babies and infants.
Colours can be distinguished from one another so long as the contrast between the two is high enough. At a month old, babies cannot tell the difference between similar colours such as red and orange or blue and aqua. At two months old, babies start to learn the difference between colours of similar shades. Over time, their brains help them recognise different colours and gradients of those colours.
Babies will like black and white and high-contrast colours equally. There was an influx in black and white baby products hitting the shelves a few years ago, and it is true to say that babies will stare at black and white colours more than they will light shades of other colours – however this is because of the high contrast between the two and not the colours themselves.