Introduction to Infant Psychology


How much do you think infants understand about the world?
Early developmental psychologists assumed that the early years of human life were filled with ‘blooming, buzzing confusion’ (William James, 1890). It’s not hard to see why this was the predominant view – after all, babies do just eat, sleep and cry for the first few months of their lives. A baby cannot answer a question you ask them, they don’t understand the language you use, they can’t even stand on their own two legs properly. But, psychological research over the years has revealed that babies are much smarter than we previously thought.
In this resource you will learn that babies have quite a few beliefs about objects in the physical world and that they can reason about human behaviour from a very early age. But first, you will learn how psychologists manage to communicate with babies who cannot speak or point.

In this really interesting set of resources you will be thinking about the question, 'Are babies clever?'


• To learn how psychologists can communicate with infants who cannot speak, point or press buttons (habituation and violation of expectations).
• To learn about infants’ naïve physics (their understanding of the physical world)
• To learn about infants’ naïve psychology (their understanding of other people’s behaviour)

This resource was funded by the Take Your Place project.  To find out more information visit

Resource activities

Activity 1 - How to communicate with babies

This topic looks at how psychologists communicate with babies who cannot speak to find out how much they understand about the world. 


Activity 1 - Suggested Answers

Some suggestions and points to consider from the questions asked in activity 1. 


Activity - Naive Physics

This activity introduces you to the ways that babies might understand the concepts of physics.


Activity 2 - Suggested answers

Some suggestions and points to consider from the questions asked in activity 2.


Activity 3 - Naive Psychology

This activity introduces the theory of mind concept and the false belief task. 


Activity 3 - Suggested answers

Some suggestions and points to consider from the questions asked in activity 3.


Activity questions

  • What is habituation?
  • What is object permanence?
  • In one study, psychologists assessed whether infants understood how gravity works. They showed infants a box (in some variants a toy train) in various positions. What did the psychologists find?
  • When small infants are shown a toy, which is hidden under a blanket, they know that the toy is still there under the blanket and will reach for it. When there are two blankets to pick from, they can choose the correct blanket (with the toy underneath). However, once the baby gets used to reaching for blanket A, they struggle to then switch to picking blanket B. Why do psychologists think this happens?
  • Some psychologists believe that 15-month-old infants might already have a functioning theory of mind. Pre-verbal infants cannot pass the standard false belief task, because it requires understanding and producing language. What did the psychologists measure in order to test such young infants?

Reflective questions

To answer and record these questions you will need to have an account and be logged in.

Task 1

What are the key arguments, concepts, points contained within it?

Task 2

What are you struggling to understand?

What could you do to improve your understanding of these concepts/terminology etc.?

Task 3

What further questions has this resource raised for you?

What else are you keen to discover about this topic and how could you go about learning more?

Can you make any links between this topic and your prior knowledge or school studies?

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Further reading