How far in their periphery can babies see?

[by Chiara Capparini]

When thinking about vision, we often refer to central vision, which offers the most spatial resolution and visual acuity. Conversely, our visual field can extend to over 90-100° and we receive a considerable amount of visual inputs from peripheral locations [1]. I know, information coming from the edge of the visual field is not as detailed as what we get from central vision, but many everyday activities – such as driving, navigating the environment, detecting a threat, or even dancing – would be highly impaired without peripheral vision.

And what about infants? Shall we assume that infants’ visual field is comparable to ours? Interestingly, human newborns prefer to orient towards peripheral locations [2]. Nonetheless, research has shown that peripheral vision seems to be progressively developing during the first postnatal year of life [3].

To test this, we recorded the behaviour of a group of 9-month-olds who viewed sequences made of a central stimulus followed by a peripheral patch appearing at a random location from 35˚ to 60˚ to the left or the right of the central stimulus. We measured head and eyes orientations to peripheral targets at different locations to understand whether infants could reliably perceive the target or not. We also tested a control group of adults on a similar task. This time, we asked participants to press a key to indicate left or right detection.

We found that babies’ peripheral vision is still developing at nine months of age. Infant performance was unequal across peripheral locations and it was hard for babies to perceive something appearing beyond 50˚. In contrast, adult performance was optimal across all the investigated locations [4].

What does this study tell us? Infants do not have the same visual field that we have. Nevertheless, their visual field is already wide and many everyday activities can benefit from it. For instance, this can help babies to actively gather more information from the surrounding space, improve balance and achieve new motor milestones.


 [1] To, M. P. S., Regan, B. C., Wood, D., & Mollon, J. D. (2011). Vision out of the corner of the eye. Vision Research51(1), 203-214.
[2] Johnson, M., & De Haan, M. (2015). Vision, orienting, and attention. In Developmental cognitive neuroscience: An introduction (pp. 83-109). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
[3] Maurer, D., & Lewis, T. L. (1991). The development of peripheral vision and its physiological underpinnings. In M. J. S. Weiss & P. R. Zelazo (Eds.), Newborn attention: Biological constraints and the influence of experience (pp. 218–255). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.
[4] Capparini, C., To, M., & Reid, V. (2020, July 6-9). Exploring infants’ sensitivity to low-level visual information across the visual field [Poster session]. International Congress of Infant Studies, Glasgow, UK.

Photo reference
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