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How do babies see colour?



Dr Anna Franklin introduces ‘The Sussex Baby Lab’, which has just opened in the School of Psychology. The Sussex Baby Lab aims find out how babies as young as 4-months old see think and learn.  

When I tell people that I run a Baby Lab, I usually get a few puzzled faces - perhaps this conjures up funny images of babies wearing white lab coats looking down microscopes.  A Baby Lab is in fact a place where babies and their parents help researchers to find out what babies can understand, how babies experience the world around them, and how babies develop and learn. 

Babies play fun, specially designed games with researchers, or look at images whilst researchers observe how the babies react and behave, or record what the babies look at.  It may look like it’s just a lot of fun, but the babies are actually helping Baby Lab researchers answer a range of important questions such as: ‘how long can babies remember something for?’, ‘can babies recognise their mother’s face?’, or even ‘can babies count?’

Our current project is called the ‘Rainbow Project’ and we are trying to find out how babies see colour.  The Rainbow Project is part of a bigger project led by The Sussex Colour Group, and the European Research Council has kindly provided the funds for this research. 

During a half an hour visit we show the babies a series of colours and record what they look at to find out whether they recognise changes in colour.  From research that has been done in the past, we know that babies see colour even when they are newborns (it is a myth that babies see in black and white!)  Now we want to know how good babies are at noticing changes in colour, and in particular we want to know whether babies group colours in a similar way to adults. 

We carry out our research in the newly built Sussex Child Research Hub, which is a suite of rooms specially designed for research on child development.  Along with the Baby Lab, there are other research teams who do their research in the hub, and children of all ages visit the space to take part in research that aims to understand a range of issues such as anxiety in children or how toddlers learn words (e.g., see the CATT Lab and WORD Lab).  The hub has several play areas for children of different ages where we can also explain the research to parents, along with multiple rooms with state-of-the-art facilities for doing research with babies and children.  Up to nine or ten families may visit the hub each day. 

The Sussex Baby Lab is currently looking for babies to help us with our research.  If you would like your baby to take part then you can find out more on the Sussex Baby Lab website:, or email / call a member of the Baby Lab team on:, 01273 873300.  You can also get regular updates on Baby Lab news at

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