Object permanence in five-month-old infants

Cognition 20 (3):191-208 (1985)
A new method was devised to test object permanence in young infants. Fivemonth-old infants were habituated to a screen that moved back and forth through a 180-degree arc, in the manner of a drawbridge. After infants reached habituation, a box was centered behind the screen. Infants were shown two test events: a possible event and an impossible event. In the possible event, the screen stopped when it reached the occluded box; in the impossible event, the screen moved through the space occupied by the box. The results indicated that infants looked reliably longer at the impossible than at the possible event. This hnding suggested that infants (1) understood that the box continued to exist, in its same location, after it was occluded by the screen, and (2) expected the screen to stop against the occluded box and were surprised, or puzzled, when it failed to do so. A control experiment in which the box was placed next to the screen provided support for this interpretation of the results. Together, the results of these experiments indicate that, contrary to Piaget’s (1954) claims, infants as young as 5 months of age understand that objects continue to exist when occluded. The results, also indicate that 5-month-old infants realize that solid objects do not move through the space occupied by other solid objects.
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