Infant Cognitive Development: How To Improve Insight & Understanding Skills

Infant Cognitive Development

Infant cognitive development looks at "insight and understanding" and how your baby develops this skill.

Stated differently, it looks at the ways a child understands and relates to the world around him. It could be referred to as information processing… a continuous interaction between a child's information gathering skills e.g. listening, feeling, tasting and the wider world.

It covers a very wide compass from simple recognition of a familiar face to the understanding of a complex activity. Cognition also covers such things as how a child learns to move in his world, from early reactions such as the blink reflex and learning to control his head, wiggling fingers and flexing limbs, to walking and eventually hopping, jumping and so on.

All these and the numerous other skills needed in the world must be learned through understanding.


How Infant Cognitive Development Works

Babies start learning as soon as they are born. Within a week they can identify their mother's voice from that of any other woman. They can focus at a length of about 8 to 12 inches which is all they need if they are to be carried about and held in someone's arms.

All babies are born with the ability of learning about their environment and eventually developing a whole bank of knowledge. Your child learns more difficult things and concepts by building up blocks of knowledge… one on top of the other. It's almost like building a big Lego structure using a lot of little blocks.

When it comes to language your child first uses vowels. And then adds consonants. These become simple words or part words, then two word phases and so on until he can conduct a full conversation.

Scientists discovered that in some ways babies think just like adults, but in other areas are very different. It often is quite difficult for us to figure out what is going on in a toddler's brain.

I remember years ago looking at objects that either sank or floated with some small children. One child was convinced that a certain object would float, though no one else in the group - two to three year olds - thought it would. Eventually we discovered that it was the same color as the toy boat she had at home. To her, with limited knowledge and experience, it made perfect sense.

In a similar way a child who sees his teddy going out of the door will scream, not just because Teddy has been taken away, but because he thinks it no longer exists because he cannot see it.


How To Improve Infant Cognitive Development

There has been lots of research into this. These studies have looked at thing such as evaluating social values and how children understand numbers. Scientists are generally divided into those who emphasize nature i.e. what a child's natural abilities are, and those who emphasize nurture i.e. the environment that a child is bought up in.

They cannot agree however as to which factors are inborn and which a child acquires from the world around him.

But it seems clear that whatever your child's natural abilities, the richer his environment the more he will more and faster s/he learns.

Did you catch that?

If you play, speak and often interact with your child, s/he will react more positively than one who is merely cared for physically by a constant stream of different carers.

Infant cognitive development apparently improves through stimulation. And probably one of the best ways is to use the PASTE rule

How Much Does Your Baby Really Understand?

Research shows that babies understand far more than was previously thought. And that applies to their understanding of the nature of objects, numbers, categories and language. Have a look at capacity of babies to read… just to name one. And the good news is that you can teach your baby those skills - it only takes time and commitment. Here is one of the resources you may find handy if you'd like to do it yourself.


At the New York University Infant Cognition Center scientists are studying such things as whether babies understand such things as 'more' and 'less' and whether they categorize by color. They are also looking at how new words are acquired - a very complex process.

Even at this age they have definite preferences:

  • Patterns which contrast sharply and recognizing the human face above all

  • Their hearing is fully mature by one month old, although of course their understanding of what they hear is far from complete.

  • By three months old he can co-ordinate his hands and eyes and so can grab out at things.

  • He is also beginning to imitate the sounds he hears. And so it goes on


Infant cognitive development is a continuous process. Sometimes in spurts and jumps, and so rapid that someone who hasn't seen a child for a few weeks will be astonished at the progress made.

Not all children learn at the same rate of course, even siblings growing up in very similar circumstances. Nevertheless there are certain milestones that should be reached by all children at certain times.

It is sometimes difficult for parents to judge accurately whether the progress their child is making is within normal limits. For this reason it is best if a child gets regular assessments by your local doctor or a pediatrician, who see many children and have a better understanding of what to expect at each stage.

If you haven't already done so, please also read The biggest secret of worry free baby development for why it's so important to go for regular checkups.


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Return from Infant Cognitive Development to Baby Development