Why do young infants fail to search for hidden objects?

Renée Baillargeon, Marcia Graber, Julia Devos, James Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Recent evidence indicates that infants as young as 3.5 months of age understand that objects continue to exist when hidden (Baillargeon, 1987a; Baillargeon & DeVos, 1990). Why, then, do infants fail to search for hidden objects until 7 to 8 months of age? The present experiments tested whether 5.5-month-old infants could distinguish between correct and incorrect search actions performed by an experimenter. In Experiment 1, a toy was placed in front of (possible event) or under (impossible event) a clear cover. Next, a screen was slid in front of the objects, hiding them from view. A hand then reached behind the screen and reapeared holding the toy. The infants looked reliably longer at the impossible than at the possible event, suggesting that they understood that the hand's direct reaching action was sufficient to retrieve the toy when it stood in front of but not under the clear cover. The same results were obtained in a second condition in which a toy was placed in front of (possible event) or behind (impossible event) a barrier. In Experiment 2, a toy was placed under the right (possible event) or the left (impossible event) of two covers. After a screen hid the objects, a hand reached behind the screen's right edge and reappeared first with the right cover and then with the toy. The infants looked reliably longer at the impossible than at the possible event, suggesting that they realized that the hand's sequence of action was sufficient to retrieve the toy when it stood under the right but not the left cover. A control condition supported this interpretation. Together, the results of Experiments 1 and 2 indicate that by 5.5 months of age, infants not only represent hidden objects, but are able to identify the actions necessary to retrieve these objects. The implications of these findings for a problem solving explanation of young infants' failure to retrieve hidden objects are considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-284
Number of pages30
JournalCognition
Volume36
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1990

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

Cite this

Why do young infants fail to search for hidden objects? / Baillargeon, Renée; Graber, Marcia; Devos, Julia; Black, James.

In: Cognition, Vol. 36, No. 3, 09.1990, p. 255-284.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Baillargeon, Renée ; Graber, Marcia ; Devos, Julia ; Black, James. / Why do young infants fail to search for hidden objects?. In: Cognition. 1990 ; Vol. 36, No. 3. pp. 255-284.
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