Objectpermanence isthe ability of a child to understand that objects exist even if they cannotdirectly be sensed (Clause). Jean Piaget claimed that children do not developobject permanence until they are around nine months, although an experimentconducted by Baillargeon, Spelke, and Wasserman indicated younger children mayalso possess this trait (Baillargeon et al., 1985). In thisexperiment, infants witnessed a possible and an impossible event in which ascreen moved back and forth, sometimes stopping after colliding with a hiddenbox. If the infants had object permanence, they were expected to show surprisethat the screen stopped in its path.
The infants watched the impossible eventsignificantly longer than the possible event. This indicated they: understoodthe box still existed in the same location after it disappeared and “Expected thescreen to stop against the occluded box, and were surprised, or puzzled, whenit failed to do so,” (Baillargeon et al., 1985, p. 1).
These results disproved Piaget’sclaim that infants do not possess object permanence until they are nine monthsold, since those four months younger seemingly demonstrated the ability. Thisexperiment and these findings are relevant to this course since acquiringobject permanence is a sign of cognitive development. In addition, Piaget’sstages of development and his cognitive theoretical perspective were used ascontext and a background to the experiment, both of which overlap with thiscourse’s curriculum.Experiments which use infants as testsubjects often have methodological problems which hinder the conclusiveness oftheir results, as unpredictable variables are more abundant with infants than witholder children or adults.
Baillargeon, Spelke, and Wasserman were aware of this problem andadjusted by creating an experiment that did not rely on: “(1) The extension orreproduction of an action, or (2) knowledge about superficial properties ofobject disappearances” (Baillargeon et al., 1985, p. 195). This was astrength of the article, as the infants did not need to do too much to demonstrateobject permanence.
Some experiments require the infants to perform coordinated actions;in this experiment, the infants’ only role was to observe. However, oneweakness of the experiment was that all infants tested were from thePhiladelphia area. This raises questions about whether the results arereplicable with infants of different areas that have been nurtured anddeveloped in different cultures and environments. Another more significantweakness lies in the role that familiarity played in determining looking times.
A similar experiment conducted in 2000 found that the familiarity caused byhabituation trials in the Baillargeon et al. experiment affected looking times,suggesting that those results “Should not be interpreted as indicating objectpermanence or solidity knowledge in young infants,” (Bogartz et al., 2000, p.1). There are experiments involvingobject permanence that can further research human development.
In thepenultimate paragraph of the article, a connection is suggested between objectpermanence and an infant’s knowledge of time and space, since the infants recognizean object can only pass through vacant space. This experiment shows aconnection between object permanence and space. However, I would like to seeobject permanence tested with time playing a more significant role.
Would theresults of this experiment be similar if the infants waited for longer periodsof time between the possible and impossible event? In addition, otherexperiments could test whether object permanence is present in infants youngerthan five months old. While these two experiments would help psychologistsdetermine when object permanence is obtained or what affects it, experimentsthat help determine what infants specifically know about the movements ofobjects would better impact our knowledge of human development.