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Do Young 2-Year-Olds Understand Object Permanence?

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Current research has consistently shown that children substantially younger than 2 years of age understand object permanence; i.e. infants have realistic expectations of where hidden objects should reappear, and they

Current research has consistently shown that children substantially younger than 2 years of age understand object permanence; i.e. infants have realistic expectations of where hidden objects should reappear, and they react with increased looking time to experimenter-manipulated violations of object permanence. However, new research has revealed that 2-year-olds' understanding of object permanence does not seem to transfer to active search tasks. Although infants look longer when an object moves behind a screen and is subsequently shown to have "magically" passed through a solid barrier, 2-year-olds do not search correctly for an object that has moved behind a panel of four doors and stopped at a barrier that is visible above the correct door. However, 2-year-olds do search flawlessly on a warm-up task in which the experimenter hides a stationary object behind one of the doors. Due to these conflicting results, I designed three search tasks to test whether the method of hiding the object affects young 2-year-olds' ability to successfully search. I used a simplified three-door apparatus with stationary objects in which children were allowed to search only one door per trial. In the Hide-3 search task, the experimenter opened a door, placed a toy in the doorway, and closed the door. In the Reveal-3 search task, all doors opened and closed simultaneously without the experimenter touching one door, and a toy was revealed already in place in a doorway. In the Reveal-2 search task, the experimenter hid the toy identically as in Reveal-3, except a hand puppet opened an incorrect door immediately after the toy was hidden, leaving two remaining doors for the child to search. If infants' and 2-year-olds' knowledge of a hidden object's location is activated in previous looking time experiments, then the puppet's incorrect search in Reveal-2 should facilitate their search performance relative to Reveal-3 by activating this knowledge. My results suggest that young 2-year-olds are not using knowledge of the hidden object's location to guide search. Instead, their performance is best explained by a utilization of alternate search strategies including imitation of the adult and salience differentials between search options. These results call into question a fundamental tenet of modern child psychology, that by 2 years of age children use their knowledge of object permanence to guide search under a variety of hiding and disappearance conditions.

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  • 2016-12

Do 2-Year-Olds Understand Object Permanence?

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According to Jean Piaget, a prominent cognitive development psychologist in 1954, infants should have an understanding of object permanence at 12 months of age. Current research has backed this idea

According to Jean Piaget, a prominent cognitive development psychologist in 1954, infants should have an understanding of object permanence at 12 months of age. Current research has backed this idea and shown that children younger than 2 years of age understand object permanence- shown through their increased looking times to inconsistent displays in which a moving object appears to have fallen through a solid shelf. However, current research used active search tasks with 2 year olds and found that they failed to search for the object consistently. My thesis explores why 2 year olds are failing search tasks if infants are appearing the understand object permanence with their looking responses. The Theory of Mind Lab at ASU designed a simple two door/two room apparatus to test 2 year olds’ ability to search for an object once it goes out of sight. Two doors open to two rooms separated by a green wall that extends above the front wall. Results showed that 2-year-olds randomly searched for the object. Perhaps children were not able to clearly differentiate the two separate spaces and ultimately started guessing because they assumed both doors go to the same room. Therefore, my thesis involved adding a ‘hallway’ between the two rooms to help children mentally separate the two spaces by showing them the bottom of the barrier. Despite the hallway, results showed that 2-year-olds again hardly performed above chance across all 6 trials. To remove the social aspects and the need to coordinate motor movement with knowledge of the object’s location, I designed a Visual Anticipation Task with automatic doors that required 2-year olds to merely look at the correct door for the hidden object. Results showed that children looked correctly at the first location correctly but when hidden in a new location in the second trial, perseverated and looked back at the first location. These results showed that 2-year olds do not understand object permanence at this age when it comes to both searching and looking.

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  • 2019-05