Object segregation in 8-month-old infants

Amy Needham, Renée Baillargeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two experiments examined 8-month-old infants' use of configural and physical knowledge in segregating three-dimensional adjacent displays. The infants in Experiment 1 saw two identical yellow octagons standing side by side; in the test events, a hand grasped the right octagon and pulled it to the side. The infants looked reliably longer when the octagons moved apart than when they moved together, suggesting that the infants (a) perceived the octagons as a single unit and hence (b) expected them to move together and were surprised when they did not. The infants in Experiment 2 saw a yellow cylinder and a blue box; a hand grasped the cylinder and pulled it to the side. The infants looked reliably longer when the box moved with the cylinder than when the box remained in place, suggesting that they (a) viewed the cylinder and box as distinct units and thus (b) expected the cylinder to move alone and were surprised when it did not. These results indicate that, by 8 months of age, infants use configural knowledge when organizing adjacent displays: they expect similar parts to belong to the same unit and dissimilar parts to belong to distinct units. Additional results revealed that 8-month-old infants' interpretation of displays is affected not only by configural but also by physical considerations. Thus, infants in Experiment 1 who saw a thin blade lowered between the octagons viewed them as two rather than as one unit. Similarly, infants in Experiment 2 who saw the cylinder lying above instead of on the apparatus floor perceived the cylinder and box as one rather than two units. These results indicate that 8-month-old infants bring to bear their knowledge of impenetrability and support when parsing adjacent displays. Furthermore, when faced with two conflicting interpretations of a display, one suggested by their configural and one by their physical knowledge, infants allow the latter to supersede the former. Together, these findings suggest that, by 8 months of age, infants' approach to segregation is fundamentally similar to that of adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-149
Number of pages29
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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