Just How Fast Do Infant Brains Develop?

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ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Mar 2017
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Photo: Moment / Getty Images

Baby’s brain develops at a quick pace. But a new study says that development is even faster than we thought. Years faster.

Previously, researchers associated the ability to perceive faces with the ability to read. But a team from the  University of Louvain discovered babies can already distinguish between faces at four months old. This evolved activity in the right hemisphere of the brain is no trivial milestone — it’s what separates us from primates, and is even better functioning than computer algorithms designed to categorize images.

To conduct the study, researchers monitored the brain activity of 15 babies. Yep, picture tiny caps with electrodes attached. They showed a rapid succession of 48 different faces over 20 seconds, interspersed with 200 images of plants, animals and objects.

This extremely fast rate — 166 milliseconds per image — is the same rate used for adult studies. But unexpectedly, babies showed an even more pronounced reaction to the facial images than adults, demonstrating a significant spike in stimulation of the right hemisphere.

And the takeaway of this study is not just for babies.

“Just as language is impaired following damage to the brain’s left hemisphere, damage to the right hemisphere can impair our ability to distinguish faces so it is critical to understand how it develops,” says co-author Bruno Rossion.

Want to know more about baby brain development? Watch this video break it down

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