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When Do Babies Recognize Familiar People?

author image Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell
Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.
When Do Babies Recognize Familiar People?
Babies love admiring themselves in the mirror. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images

Babies are drawn to human faces over other shapes from the time they're only a few weeks old, according to the March of Dimes. Human faces are one of an infant's favorite and fascinating things to observe, especially when it's mom or dad or his own image staring back at him in a mirror. By 3-months-old, most babies know the difference between familiar faces and strange ones.

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Mom Is Typically First In Line

A newborn stares at his mother's face during breastfeeding and also becomes familiar with mom's unique features if being bottle-fed. An infant typically quickly comes to recognize his mother and connects her with love and affection because she meets his needs. A baby also recognizes dad and other family members she comes in contact with regularly. Strangers are a curious lot for the typical 3-month-old, explains, a website published by the Nemours Foundation. She may keep a watchful eye on unfamiliar faces and examine their many curious expressions.

What Looks Have To Do With It

Once your baby comes to recognize extended family members, like his maternal and paternal grandmothers, he may stare longer at the one he finds most attractive. Babies are just like adults when it comes to preferring a good-looking face over a less-attractive one, according to a 2004 study by the University of Exeter in England. Babies who were shown pictures of a plain-looking woman and a fashion model spent more time staring at the more appealing face, researchers found. Dr. Alan Slater, a psychologist at Exeter, concluded that babies enter the world with a highly detailed depiction of the human face which helps them recognize familiar faces. Babies used in the study ranged from a few hours old to two days old. The research was presented at the 2004 British Association Science Festival in Exeter.

Separation Anxiety and Unfamiliar Faces

Parents may begin to worry that their baby has a split personality starting around 8 months old, notes, the official website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. One part of your little one seems approachable, affectionate and outgoing with mom, dad, siblings and other people he sees often. Seemingly out of the blue, another part of his personality is clingy and easily frightened by strangers. For example, your baby may become upset if you bring him to a new caregiver. Up until this stage of development, your infant may have been inquisitive about unfamiliar people but not necessarily scared or anxious. Separation anxiety issues often persist until a child is around 18 months old.


Babies have an innate drive to bond with others. In other words, today's stranger may be tomorrow's friend. Trust and intimacy lay the groundwork for creating and maintaining emotional connections, explains, a website published by the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. Building positive relationships help children learn to understand themselves and others and encourages them to become caring and receptive adults.

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