Detecting continuity violations in infancy: A new account and new evidence from covering and tube events

Su Hua Wang, Renée Baillargeon, Sarah Paterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent research on infants' responses to occlusion and containment events indicates that, although some violations of the continuity principle are detected at an early age e.g. Aguiar, A., & Baillargeon, R. (1999). 2.5-month-old infants' reasoning about when objects should and should not be occluded. Cognitive Psychology 39, 116-157; Hespos, S. J., & Baillargeon, R. (2001). Knowledge about containment events in very young infants. Cognition 78, 207-245; Luo, Y., & Baillargeon, R. (in press). When the ordinary seems unexpected: Evidence for rule-based reasoning in young infants. Cognition; Wilcox, T., Nadel, L., & Rosser, R. (1996). Location memory in healthy preterm and full-term infants. Infant Behavior & Development 19, 309-323, others are not detected until much later e.g. Baillargeon, R., & DeVos, J. (1991). Object permanence in young infants: Further evidence. Child Development 62, 1227-1246; Hespos, S. J., & Baillargeon, R. (2001). Infants' knowledge about occlusion and containment events: A surprising discrepancy. Psychological Science 12, 140-147; Luo, Y., & Baillargeon, R. (2004). Infants' reasoning about events involving transparent occluders and containers. Manuscript in preparation; Wilcox, T. (1999). Object individuation: Infants' use of shape, size, pattern, and color. Cognition 72, 125-166. The present research focused on events involving covers or tubes, and brought to light additional examples of early and late successes in infants' ability to detect continuity violations. In Experiment 1, 2.5- to 3-month-old infants were surprised (1) when a cover was lowered over an object, slid to the right, and lifted to reveal no object; and (2) when a cover was lowered over an object, slid behind the left half of a screen, lifted above the screen, moved to the right, lowered behind the right half of the screen, slid past the screen, and finally lifted to reveal the object. In Experiments 2 and 3, 9- and 11-month-old infants were not surprised when a short cover was lowered over a tall object until it became fully hidden; only 12-month-old infants detected this violation. Finally, in Experiment 4, 9-, 12-, and 13-month-old infants were not surprised when a tall object was lowered inside a short tube until it became fully hidden; only 14-month-old infants detected this violation. A new account of infants' physical reasoning attempts to make sense of all of these results. New research directions suggested by the account are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-173
Number of pages45
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2005


  • Continuity violations
  • Event categories
  • Physical reasoning in infancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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