Physical and Cognitive Development in Infants

Physicaland Cognitive Development in Infants

Rightfrom birth, several factors and influences play an active role in thephysical and cognitive development of a human being. This developmentis a lifelong process that shapes the behaviors and traits of aperson. However, at each stage of development, the factors shapingthe development of an individual are unique in nature, source andimpact (Illingworth,2013).It is therefore not practicable to study these factors withoutcategorizing an individual to a certain stage in life. This paperseeks to explore the influences that shape the physical and cognitivedevelopment of an individual in the infancy stage of life.

Typically,an infant is a young child below that age of 12 months. A baby in thefirst month is referred to as a newborn. Even if born at the sametime, infants develop in different ways depending on the kind ofupbringing they get. For example, two infants who share a birthdaycan start walking at different times as they grow up. This can evenhappen in twins who are born to the same parents at the same time ofa few minutes apart. Consequently, it is possible to find two infantsof the same living in the same environment but with very differentphysical and cognitive traits. These differences occur right frombirth.

Beforeexploring the factors that affect physical and social development ininfants, it is of the essence to take a look at the physical andbehavioral developments that occur at the infancy stage of life.These developments will be divided into two timelines, the first sixmonths after birth and the next six month before the infant turns oneyear. At birth, the infant is not able to control their bodymovements. Almost all the moves they make occur by reflex. Theirvision is not well developed since their eyesight is limited to justten inches from their eyes. Their nervous system is not fullydeveloped too.

Mostof the physical characteristics that an infant is born with asmentioned earlier start changing in the first six months of existence(Illingworth,2013).By the sixth month, the infant’s vision is now more developed.Also, babies at this time have a little control over their muscles,especially in the arms and legs. This enables them to sit, but theyneed help to do this. At this stage, they can also hold their headupright for a short time, roll from their side to their stomach oreven roll over completely (Field,2014).Cognitive development that occurs here includes developing trust intheir parents. They also use crying as a way of expressing what theyare feeling. They can even smile when happy or smile back at anotherperson.

Thesecond set of physical and cognitive development in an infant takesplace between the seventh and twelfth months. By the twelfth month,infants start eating at regular intervals and take regular naps inthe morning and the afternoon, mostly after their meals. They canalso feed themselves using a spoon and a plate. They can now sitwithout help and even crawl around the house. Their hands can pickand hold small objects for a short time (Field,2014).Intellectually, infants at this age can wave bye-bye when people areleaving and respond to simple directions as they crawl around. Theycan also speak a few words like “mama” and “papa” and othersounds that those who live with them can comprehend.

Thethree key factors that affect physical development in children arethe environment, genetics, and chronic illness. The environment thata child grows up in greatly affects their physical development. Forinstance, identical twins separated at birth and brought up indifferent environments are bound to have different physical traits(Illingworth,2013).Environmental factors such as nutrition affect the child’s abilityto develop physically. Malnourished children face challenges inphysical development. For example, a child fed on a diet withoutcalcium is likely to have weak bones and teeth that hamper theirgrowth and adaptability to later life stages.

Geneticsis the other key factor that affects an infant’s physicaldevelopment. A child’s genetic makeup at birth influences how theygrow physically. These genetic characteristics such as height andweight are passed to the child by the parents. Genetics affects thesize of body parts, the rate of growth and transition from one stageof growth to the next (Field,2014).Lastly, chronic diseases influence how an infant develops physically.For example, children suffering sickle cell anemia are reported to beshorter and weigh less compared to infants without the disease. Suchdiseases affect physical development in an infant since vitalresources that could be used for development by the body are used tofight the disease the infant suffers from.

Somehereditary and environmental factors affect the cognitivedevelopments in infants that were mentioned earlier. These factorsinclude nutrition, genetics, environmental stress, stimuli, anddevelopment of sensory organs. Nutrition affects a baby even beforetheir birth. During pregnancy, a mother’s diet affects how the babywill grow up once they are born. Besides affecting physicaldevelopment, nutrition affects an infant’s cognitive development(Illingworth,2013).Nutrition affects the infant’s IQ development that in turn affectstheir cognitive development.

Geneticsacts as the blueprint on which infants add what they learn as theydevelop. Consequently, it plays a large part in the infant’scognitive behavior. The infants’ ability to learn from theirenvironment and respond to stimuli greatly relies on their geneticcapabilities. For example, an infant with genetic-related mentaldefects is likely to be slowly in developing key cognitive skills andtraits. Environmental stress such as poor housing and diets andparental absence also affects the infant’s cognitive development.As a result, infants living in homes with less favorable conditionsare most likely to develop slower than those in stable homes.

Cognitivedevelopment heavily relies on vision and hearing. Consequently, theability of the child to effectively utilize their vision and hearinghas a direct impact on their cognitive development. For example, aninfant with impaired hearing or seeing is likely to develop slowerthat one whose eyes and ears are functioning optimally (Field,2014).Lastly, stimuli affect how infants develop cognitively. For example,infants in a family where parents constantly talk to them are morelikely to develop faster. Such infants tend to have a bettervocabulary and learn how to read and write earlier.

Social,moral, and personality development are the other import areas ofinfant development. Psychologists have advanced several theories toexplain this occurs. One of the most widely used is Jean Piaget’stheory of personality development (Field,2014).This theory is founded on the principle that children thinkdifferently compared to adults, and therefore child developmentshould not be approached from the same angle as adult development.The other theory in this area is Freud’s Stages of PsychosexualDevelopment. This theory suggests that personality is developed in aseries of stages as a child grows. He insists that if a child missesany of these stages, they are bound to have personality problems inadulthood.


Physicaland cognitive development in infants gives the child a foundation forthe subsequent development stages in life. As a result, gooddevelopment at this age is key to the child’s survival andadaptability as they grow up. Key changes such as seeing andrecognizing people occur at this stage. Several factors affect thedevelopment of the child at this stage. These include genetics,nutrition, and environment. Proper development at this stage willgive the child the best conditions for their physical and cognitivedevelopment.


Field,T. M. (2014). Touchin early development.Psychology Press.

Illingworth,R. S. (2013). Thedevelopment of the infant and the young child: Normal and abnormal.Elsevier Health Sciences.