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Developmental Journey of Newborns: Psychological Processes and Milestones

In the dimly lit hospital room, a newborn takes its first breath, marking the beginning of an extraordinary developmental journey. From the first cry to the cautious exploration of the world around them, newborns undergo rapid changes that shape their essence. This essay delves into the fascinating and marvelous field of newborn psychology, uncovering the intricate processes and milestones that form the basis for cognitive, emotional, and social development in early infancy. The present article concerns the exploration of the intricate world of infant development, wherein the developing mind and its boundless potential are the focal points of interest. The objective is to deepen the comprehension of the psychological processes that underpin the growth and transformation of these nascent individuals during the crucial early months of life. As such, this article invites one to embark upon a quest to unravel the mysteries of the newborn mind and unlock the secrets of its untapped potential.

Figure 1: Baby at the hospital (Fetters,2023)

Understanding the Newborn Psychology

First of all, the development of humans starts at conception, but different stages of development are recognized in the medical, developmental, and psychological fields. The term neonate or newborn refers to infants from birth to 28 days old; while other stages of development last for years, the neonatal period is much shorter (Nagy, 2010). Therefore, how can we consider this short period a distinct stage of human development in psychology? The infancy stage is not uniform and consists of various periods of development and regression for different psychological functions, as noted by Heimann and Plooij (2003), authors of Regression Periods in Humancy. This development occurs both physically and mentally. According to Desiraju (2018), an established pediatrician, newborns often experience a phase of accelerated development around 7 to 10 days after birth, followed by another growth spurt at 3 and 6 weeks of age. Doherty et. al (2023), researchers in the field of medicine, reported that the neonatal period, encompassing the most significant physiological transformations in a human's life, holds distinct importance in psychology despite its relatively short duration, owing to its unique physiological and psychological changes. Additionally, according to Shonkoff (2019), a leading scholar and director of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, early childhood experiences leave a significant impact on the development of the brain's architecture, which serves as the fundamental basis for future learning, behavior, and health outcomes. A strong foundation during this period is essential in fostering the necessary skills that enable children to become well-adjusted adults (Shonkoff, 2019).

Cognitive Development of Infants

To embark on the fascinating journey of understanding the cognitive development of infants, we delve into the intricate workings of their developing minds. According to United Nations Children’s Fund (n.d.), an agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, infants exhibit remarkable cognitive abilities from birth which form the foundation for their future intellectual growth and development. This is because the rapid maturation of their brain after birth influences their physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being, ultimately impacting their learning potential, earning capacity, and success in adulthood (United Nations Children’s Fund, n.d.). By exploring early cognitive milestones and processes that shape future intellectual growth, the awe-inspiring progression of cognitive development during infancy is uncovered, providing valuable insights into the intricate workings of the infant mind and its incredible potential. However, Aslin and Fiser (2005), researchers in the field of cognitive psychology, reported that the specific processes that drive cognitive development are still widely unexplored and not fully understood. On the other hand, the information previously provided regarding the underlying mechanisms of cognitive development may require updating as our understanding continues to evolve with scientific research and advancements in the field, leading to new insights and revisions in our knowledge of cognitive development. Nurliyana et. al (2016), researchers in the field of medicine, claimed that the initial two years of life represent a crucial phase characterized by rapid growth and significant advancements in brain development. During this period, neural connections multiply, sensory perception improves, and higher cognitive functions begin to emerge (Nurliyana et. al, 2016). Therefore, environmental experiences and caregiver interactions play a crucial role in shaping brain development during this time (Nurliyana et. al, 2016).

Figure 2: Symbolic representation of the baby's brain development (Majunath, 2022)

Emotional Development of Infants

Discussing emotional development in newborns necessitates mentioning the significant contributions of John Bowlby, a renowned figure in the field. Bowlby's (1982) seminal work explores the concept of attachment and its profound impact on the emotional development of infants. It emphasizes the crucial role of early bonding and secures attachments in shaping emotional well-being and future social relationships (Bowlby, 1982). Newborns undergo emotional development from birth, exhibiting innate emotional responses that gradually expand and develop over time (Bowlby, 1982). Genetic predispositions, brain maturation, interactions with caregivers, and the environment have a significant impact on the emotional development of infants (Bowlby, 1982). As newborns learn to recognize, express, and regulate their emotions while forming social and emotional bonds with caregivers and others, they ultimately lay the foundation for future social interactions and emotional well-being (Bowlby, 1982). His work underscores the significance of attachment in infants' emotional development, as they display evolving emotions influenced by genetics, brain development, and caregiver interactions (Bowlby,1982).

Social Development of Infants

In connection with emotional development, Smith and Talen (2003), researchers in the field of psychology, state that development involves transforming something less into something more, such as a helpless infant evolving into a walking and talking toddler. They added that newborns undergo continuous development in various aspects, from a social perspective, infants experience social development early on, gradually acquiring skills and behaviors that enable effective interactions with others (Smith & Talen, 2023). Furthermore, they added that While possessing innate social tendencies, infants' social development progresses through interactions with caregivers and the environment, as they form attachments with primary caregivers, learn reciprocal interactions, engage in joint attention, seek social cues from others, develop communication skills, exhibit rudimentary social abilities, navigate turn-taking in interactions, and intertwine social development with cognitive and emotional development, shaping self-perception, understanding emotions, and emotional regulation (Smith & Talen, 2023). In a pioneering study by Bridges (1933), a psychologist specializing in developmental psychology, it was founded that, in a group of sixty-two infants aged three weeks to two years, social behavior development was observed. Research shows that social development in infants begins with their connection to the adult caregiver, as they form positive associations and experiences, gradually recognizing the caregiver as a separate individual and developing a genuine interest in receiving personal attention, leading to the emergence of playful actions and imitative vocalizations that lay the groundwork for future social interactions and relationships, ultimately contributing to their overall social skills (Bridges,1933).

Figure 3: Socialization in babies (Novak, 2022)


In conclusion, the journey of newborn development represents a remarkable and captivating process encompassing cognitive, emotional, and social growth. The intricate workings of the infant mind, along with its vast potential, beckon researchers and scholars to explore and deepen their understanding of the psychological processes driving this growth. While comprehension of these processes continues to evolve, ongoing scientific research and advancements shed light on the underlying mechanisms of cognitive, emotional, and social development. Despite its brevity (Nagy, 2010), the neonatal period plays a critical role in laying the foundation for future learning, behavior, and overall well-being (United Nations Children’s Fund, n.d.). By unraveling the mysteries of the newborn mind, a deeper understanding and appreciation of the incredible journey of infancy can be attained.

Bibliographical References

Aslin, R. N., & Fiser, J. (2005). Methodological challenges for understanding cognitive development in infants. Trends in cognitive sciences, 9(3), 92-98.

Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: retrospect and prospect. American journal of Orthopsychiatry, 52(4), 664.

Bridges, K. M. B. (1933). A study of social development in early infancy. Child Development, 36-49.

Desiraju, M. (Ed.). (2018, October). Your newborn’s growth (for parents) - Nemours Kidshealth. KidsHealth.

Doherty, T. M., Annette Hu, & Irim Salik. (2023). Physiology, Neonatal. U.S. National Library of Medicine

Heimann, M., & Plooij, F. X. (2003). Regression periods in human infancy. Psychology Press.

Nagy, E. (2010). The newborn infant: a missing stage in developmental psychology. Infant and Child Development, 20(1), 3–19. doi:10.1002/icd.683

Nurliyana, A. R., Mohd Shariff, Z., Mohd Taib, M. N., Gan, W. Y., & Tan, K. A. (2016). Early nutrition, growth and cognitive development of infants from birth to 2 years in Malaysia: a study protocol. BMC pediatrics, 16, 1-7.

Shonkoff, J. (2019). Early Childhood. NCDHHS.

Smith, L. B., & Thelen, E. (2003). Development as a dynamic system. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7(8), 343–348. doi:10.1016/s1364-6613(03)00156-6

United Nations Children’s Fund. (n.d.). Early childhood development (ECD) The early moments matter and are essential for every child to reach their full potential. UNICEF India.

Weaver, L. T. (2006). Rapid growth in infancy: balancing the interests of the child. Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, 43(4), 428-432.

Visual Sources

Fetters, K. A. (2023), How Much It Costs to Have a Hospital Birth, Parents

Majunath, D. (2022), Babies & Brains, Status Neuro

Novak, S. (2022), How to Promote a Baby’s Social and Emotional Development, What to Expect

Walden, L. (n.d.) Newborn, Lindsay Walden Fine Art Photography

Author Photo

Sena Mutlu

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