Sensory and Perceptual Development in Infancy

Sensation is the physical stimulation of the sense organs.

Perception is the mental process of sorting out, interpreting, analyzing, and integrating stimuli from the sense organs and brain.

Sensory-perceptual development yield little advantage, parents should ensure that their infants receive sufficient physical and sensory stimulation.

The newborn’s sensory world does lack the clarity and stability that we can distinguish as adults. Day-by-day as the infant’s ability of the environment of sensory and perceptual development takes place, their world grows increasingly comprehensible.


Hearing perception:

Babies start to organize sounds into complex patterns. Infants hear from the time of birth—and even before. Between 4 and 7 months, infants display a sense of musical phrasing. They prefer Mozart minuets with pauses between phrases to those with awkward breaks.

Around 6 to 7 months, they can distinguish musical tunes on the basis of variations in rhythmic patterns, including beat structure (duple or triple) and accent structure. By the end of the first year, infants recognize the same melody when it is played in different keys. 6- to 12-month-olds make comparable discriminations in human speech.

Infants have some practice in hearing before birth. It is not surprising that infants have reasonably good auditory perception after they are born. They are more sensitive to certain very high and very low frequencies than adults—a sensitivity that seems to increase during the first two years of life.

Speech Perception:

Newborns can distinguish nearly all sounds in human languages and that they prefer listening to human speech over non speech sounds. Brain-imaging evidence reveals that in young infants, discrimination of speech sounds activates both auditory and motor areas in the cerebral cortex. while perceiving speech sounds, babies also generate internal motor plans that prepare them for producing those sounds.

As infants listen to people talk, they learn to focus on meaningful sound variations. around 5 months, infants become sensitive to syllable stress patterns in their own language. Soon after, infants focus on larger speech units that are critical to figuring out meaning. They recognize familiar words in spoken passages and listen longer to speech.

Around 7 to 9 months, infants extend this sensitivity to speech structure to individual words.

Vision Perception:

For exploring the environment, humans depend on vision more than any other sense. Although at first a baby’s visual world is fragmented, it undergoes extraordinary changes during the first 7 to 8 months of life. Visual development is supported by rapid maturation of the eye and visual centers in the cerebral cortex. the newborn baby focuses and perceives color poorly.

According to Haith (1991) an infant can see with accuracy only visual material up to 20 feet that an adult with normal vision is able to see with similar accuracy from a distance of between 200 and 600 feet. By six months of age, the average infant’s vision
is identical to as of adults.

Binocular vision, the ability to combine the images coming to each eye to see depth and motion, is achieved at around 14 weeks.

In a classic experiment, Robert Fantz (1961) found that two- and three-month-old infants preferred to look at more complex stimuli than simple ones.

Around 2 months, infants can focus on objects about as well as adults can. Scanning the environment and tracking moving objects also improve over the first half-year as infants better control their eye movements and build an organized perceptual world.

Smell and Taste:

The sense of smell is so well developed, even among very young infants, that at least some 12- to 18-day-old babies can distinguish their mothers on the basis of smell alone.

Infants seem to have an innate sweet tooth (even before they have teeth!). They show facial expressions of disgust when they taste something bitter. Very young infants smile when a sweet-tasting liquid is placed on their tongues. They also suck harder at a bottle if it tastes sweet.


Read about motor development in infancy, here.


  1. Robert. S. Feldman. (2017). Development Across the Lifespan. (8th ed.). Pearson Education.
  2. Laura. E. Berk. (2018). Development Through the Lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson Education.

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