Previous research has shown that young children have difficulty searching for a hidden object whose location depends on the position of a partly visible physical barrier. Across four experiments, we tested whether children’s search errors are affected by two variables that influence adults’ object-directed attention: object boundaries and proximity relations. Toddlers searched for a car that rolled down a ramp behind an occluding panel and stopped on contact with a barrier. The car’s location on each trial depended on the placement of the barrier behind one of two doors in the panel. In Experiment 1, when a part of the car (a pompom on an antenna) was visible at the same distance from the object as the barrier wall in past research, search performance was above chance but below ceiling. In Experiments 2 and 3, when the visible part was close to the hidden body of the car and could be seen through one of two windows in the doors of the occluding panel, performance was near ceiling. In Experiment 4, when only the barrier was visible through one of the same windows, performance was at chance. Toddlers’ search for a hidden object therefore is affected by the proximity of a visible part of the object, though not by the proximity of a separate visible landmark. These findings suggest a parallel between the object representations of young children and those of adults, whose attention is directed to objects and spreads in a gradient-like fashion within an object.
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