Assessing infants' concepts of persons in a stressful situation

Date

1970

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Abstract

Piaget's speculations on the development of object permanence with respect to persons were examined. His view, and the view of those who work in his tradition, appears to entail the assumption that infants who have object permanence perceive persons as individuals. To assess this notion, an attempt was made to establish an expectation that a given adult would appear in a peek-a-boo game, and to violate that expectation by presenting a second adult instead. The child's mother and a male stranger were the adults. Twenty- four subjects, aged 9, 12, and 18 months, were tricked twice. Once Mother disappeared and the Stranger appeared and once the reverse order occurred. The babies attended to reappearances and reacted to tricks. Tricks produced frowning, mild puzzlement, and increased attention, but few surprise responses. The expected relation between age and level of surprise over tricks was not found. The failure to confirm the main hypothesis may have been due to a failure to sufficiently involve the infants in the game. Babies consistently acted reserved and wary. They may have focused, not on the disappear - reappear sequence, but on novel qualities of the person present. Two styles of coping with the appearance of person were identified. Babies either looked at the appearing adult or turned away in some measure. These styles appear related to increases in stress when the stranger suddenly appeared and when mothers did not answer their baby's requests for release. Eighteen of twenty-four babies were either consistent lookers or consistent averters. Older subjects tended to be lookers, and younger subjects to be averters. Behavioral notes explained why five of six children looked at one adult and averted from the other. Fifteen babies averted from Mother, ten when Mother refused to release them. Five were consistent averters, with no obvious reason for turning from Mother. Four of these five were the poorest copers in the sample.

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Keywords

Infant psychology, Stress (Psychology)

Citation