Out of sight not out of mind

Renee Baillargeon, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has tested Piaget's concept of object permanence, the out of sight, out of mind perception that Piaget considered a cognitive limitation of the early sensorimotor stage. In a 1997 study Baillargeon and others demonstrated that infants as young as three and one half months of age can remember a toy (a Mr. Potato Head) after it has been hidden from sight.

In two later experiments published in 2003, Baillargeon and others tested four-month-old infants in what she termed "violation of expectation," or VOE tasks.

The infants still gave evidence that they could represent and reason about hidden objects: they were surprised, as indicated by greater attention, when a wide object became fully hidden behind a narrow occluder (Experiment 1) or inside a narrow container (Experiment 2).

Unlike previous tests, in these experiments the infants were not first given "habituation or familiarization trials," but only a single test trial. Baillargeon's research provides additional support for the conclusion in her previous studies that "young infants possess expectations about hidden objects." Her experiments have shown that very young infants already are learning concepts of object permanence relative to visible and hidden objects before Piaget believed they were developmentally able to do so.

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