Object Individuation and Physical Reasoning in Infancy: An Integrative Account

Renée Baillargeon, Maayan Stavans, Di Wu, Yael Gertner, Peipei Setoh, Audrey K. Kittredge, Amélie Bernard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Much of the research on object individuation in infancy has used a task in which two different objects emerge in alternation from behind a large screen, which is then removed to reveal either one or two objects. In their seminal work, Xu and Carey (1996) found that it is typically not until the end of the first year that infants detect a violation when a single object is revealed. Since then, a large number of investigations have modified the standard task in various ways and found that young infants succeed with some but not with other modifications, yielding a complex and unwieldy picture. In this article, we argue that this confusing picture can be better understood by bringing to bear insights from a related subfield of infancy research, physical reasoning. By considering how infants reason about object information within and across physical events, we can make sense of apparently inconsistent findings from different object-individuation tasks. In turn, object-individuation findings deepen our understanding of how physical reasoning develops in infancy. Integrating the insights from physical-reasoning and object-individuation investigations thus enriches both subfields and brings about a clearer account of how infants represent objects and events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-46
Number of pages43
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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