The effects of different amounts and types of experience on infant's object concepts



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The recent burst of interest in the cognitive processes of infants has been stimulated primarily by Piaget's theory of cognitive development. A central aspect of his theory concerns infants' object concepts. The focus of the present study was a curious pattern of behavior, labeled the A-B phenomenon, that Piaget observed in his own three infants during the fourth stage of object concept development. According to Piaget (1954a), infants in this stage would search for a hidden object at the first position of hiding (A), despite the fact that they had seen the object hidden at the second position (B). This error pattern of searching at A for an object hidden at B was observed to occur six or seven times after only two successes at the A-side. In his explanation of this A-B phenomenon, Piaget states that the infant exhibits this erroneous behavior because his former searching response is more memorially potent than his latter visual observing response. Arguing strongly against 'purely empirical training' and yet for 'gradual and active' learning, Piaget is somewhat unclear about just what is the role of experience in the A-B phenomenon. From the review of Piaget's (1954a) A-B explanation and the other relevant literature, it was concluded that Piaget underplayed the effect of amount of experience and empirically neglected the hypothesis that the searching response is more memorially potent than the observing response. Therefore, the present study was carried out to empirically answer the following questions: (1) What are the effects on the A-E phenomenon of much or little A- experience? (2) What are the effects of 'active experience' (i.e., searching for hidden toy) and 'passive experience' (i.e., observing, but not searching) on the A-B phenomenon? Forty-two male and female 7 1/2 to 10 1/2 month old infants were randomly assigned to three equated groups and given different amounts and types of A-experience. Within the framework of the A-B experimental paradigm, each S received A-hiding trials according to his group placement, and identical warm-up and B-hiding trials. For example, Group I was the 'high active A-experience group;' Group II, the 'high passive A-experience group;' and Group III, the 'low A-experience group (controls).' From the analysis of the data obtained in this study it was concluded that: (1) The stage 4 A-E phenomenon observed by Piaget (1954a) and others, is a reliable and meaningful part of the behavioral sequence of object concept development in infants. (2) The amount of A-experience, which Piaget underplayed, is an important parameter in explaining the A-E phenomenon. More active A-experience was associated with more trouble in reversing the instrumental response in B-trials. (3) The importance of the type of experience parameter which Piaget employed in his explanation of the A-B phenomenon was supported. Infants who had high- passive experience did not differ from low-experience infants in their error tendencies and both groups erred less than the high active experience infants. Thus looking and doing was more productive of error than looking alone. (4) During B-trials, there was a relationship between direction of orientation of gaze during the delay interval and the success or failure of a searching response for an infant. However, no relation was found between the experience conditions and direction of orientation during the delay interval. (5) A composite explanatory model, incorporating interpretations of Piaget's (1954a) theory, the information on the amount and type of A-experience from the present study, and learning theory principles, is presented to account for the A-B phenomenon. However, more parametric research is needed for a clearer understanding and explanation of object concept development in infants.



Child development., Infant psychology.