Friday, February 3, 2012

What Does a Baby See in the Mirror?

      For about the past two weeks, whenever we pass in front of a mirror, Q-ball waves at our reflection.  I've assumed that this means that means she recognizes our reflection, which made me think that she realizes that the people in the mirror are actually us.  Well, I guess that's why I'm not leading any research projects in child development.  Those that are published psychologists found that it is actually much later- around age 2- that a person can fully identify himself by his reflection.  I suppose this makes sense.  Understanding the concept of a reflection could be a pretty tricky idea- it obviously entails more than the physical ability to see one's self in the mirror, but also to understand that that person is how others see you at that exact moment.  Whew... 
    However, this is not an ability to develops overnight.  It is a skill and understanding that develops overtime, apparently starting at about 3-months.  Babies at this age gaze at their own reflections longer than they will look at the image of another person, with whom they are more likely to smile and vocalize, demonstrating the natural human desire for socialization.  By 4-months, babies appear to be able to distinguish the movement of their legs in a mirror, demonstrating that their ability to self-identify is not limited to faces. Additionally, this ability proves that babies are able to make connections between visual tasks and action tasks.  At 6-months, babies clearly prefer an actual mirror image of themselves to one that is distorted or blurred. 
    Still, none of these tasks show that babies see their reflections as actual representations of themselves or what they look like to others.  To study this point, most researchers use the "surprise-mark test." In this test, a sticker or other mark is placed on a baby's or toddler's face (some researchers have taken this test further and put the mark on legs, although the results have been the same). The baby or toddler is then shown his reflection. If he attempts to touch or remove the sticker, it is deemed that he passes the test and truly understands that a reflection is actually him in his current state.  Typically, sometime between 18-months and 24-months, toddlers are able to pass this test.  
    However, some researchers believe that simply passing the surprise-mark test is not an indication that an toddler has a complete understand of self.  They believe that the idea of "self" is composed of multiple self-concepts- the past, present, and future self.  An 18-month old that reaches for the sticker in the surprise test, understands her present self.  However, if she is shown a video of herself with the sticker 3-minutes after it was taken, she would not reach for the sticker.  Children at this age can only understand a single image of themselves.  It is not until age 4 that children can understand multiple concepts of self.  
    So, I was right to conclude that Q-ball, at 10-months, does have some idea that the person in the mirror is her, but just on the most basic level.  It will be interesting to observe her changing reactions overtime!  And, maybe I'll even conduct my own sticker test.

Does your little one like to look in the mirror?  How does he react to his reflection? Have you conducted your own sticker test???

Miyazaki, M. & Hiraki, K. (2006). Delayed intermodal contingency affects young children's recognition of their current self. Child Development, 77(3). 736-750. Retrieved from
Nielsen, M., Suddendorf, T., & Slaughter, V. Mirror self-recognition beyond the face (2006). Child Development, 77(1). 176-185. Retrieved from
Rochat, P. & Striano, T. (2002)  Who's in the mirror? Self-other discrimination in specular images by four- and nine-month-old infants. Child Development, 73(1). 35-46. Retrieved from

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for reminding me of this research - so fascinating! Ailia is just starting to really look at herself in the mirror (11 wks)


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