The role of experience in the development of pictorial competence has been the center of substantial debate. The four studies presented here help resolve the controversy by systematically documenting and examining manual exploration of depicted objects by infants. We report that 9-month-old infants manually investigate pictures, touching and feeling depicted objects as if they were real objects and even trying to pick them up off the page. The same behavior was observed in babies from two extremely different societies (the United States and the Ivory Coast). This investigation of pictures occurs even though infants can discriminate between real objects and their depictions. By the time infants are 19 months of age, their manual exploration is replaced by pointing at depicted objects. These results indicate that initial uncertainty about the nature of pictures leads infants to investigate them. Through experience, infants begin to acquire a concept of "picture." This concept includes the fact that a picture has a dual nature (it is both an object and a representation of something other than itself), as well as knowledge about the culturally appropriate use of pictures.
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