A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Awareness of Object Permanence In Infants

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 23, 2007

In the previous post where I was commenting on Quine, I mentioned a research done by Baillargeon, R. – “The Object Concept Revisited”. To give a example of those researches, I will point to one of the experiments done by Baillargeon and Julie DeVos (“Object Permanence in Young Infants: Further Evidence”) on the issue of young children being aware of object permanence…

The experiment was done on infants which were approximately 3.5 months old, to which (after the habituation events) those two test events were presented:


Here is the summary of the result and the interpretation of the results as given in the paper:

The infants in the experimental condition tended to look equally at the tall and the short carrot habituation events, but looked reliably longer at the impossible than at the possible test event. These results indicate that the infants (a)realized that each carrot continued to exist after it slid behind the screen, (b)assumed that each carrot retained its height behind the screen, (c) believed that each carrot pursued its trajectory behind the screen, and therefore (d) expected the tall carrot to be visible in the screen window and were surprised that it was not. These results confirm Baillargeon’s (1987a) conclusion that infants as young as 3.5 months of age are aware that objects continue to exist when occluded.

To read more about the Baillargeon’s research visit the Infant Cognition Lab, where you can find few pdf documents reporting the findings of the investigations.


3 Responses to “Awareness of Object Permanence In Infants”

  1. To be fair to Quine (though I myself am not sympathetic to (most) of his view), I don’t think these kinds of studies really cut any ice against his view. A Quinian will most likely respond that the infant is not seeing objects, but rather is learning how to group time slices together. That is, they are in the process of aquiring the ‘apparatus of individuation’. So that they are suprised by the impossible cenerio is sort of irrelevant to Quine’s main theisis

  2. Hi Richard,

    The reports indicate that infants as early as 2.5 months expect that:
    a)item continues to exist when occluded
    b)one thing should be displaced when hit by another

    If I understand you right, you are saying that a Quinean can say that those kids have developed physical theories about object permanence and transfer of momentum (of course naive one) by that age.
    This wouldn’t have lot to do though with observation sentences playing any role in this process, right?

    I thought that in the part of The Web of Belief that we discussed in the other posts (again, I’m probably missing a lot from the other books/papers Quine has written) he says that the development of the theory is connected with learning the language.

  3. yeah, I think you are right that Quine thought that…I was suggesting that someone who liked his basic idea needn’t be flustered by the cogsci stuff ’cause they could back off a little from the linguistic claim…although not that much…even at those young ages the kids are exposed to ‘observation sentences’. For instance, parents often hold up toys and say things like ‘here’s buby, do you want buby’ etc…

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