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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Sep 2;100(18):10568-73. Epub 2003 Aug 25.

Development of object concepts in infancy: Evidence for early learning in an eye-tracking paradigm.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA. scott.johnson@nyu.edu

Abstract

Concepts of objects as enduring and complete across space and time have been documented in infants within several months after birth, but little is known about how such concepts arise during development. Current theories that stress innate knowledge may neglect the potential contributions of experience to guide acquisition of object concepts. To examine whether learning plays an important role in early development of object representations, we used an eye-tracking paradigm with 4- and 6-month-old infants who were provided with an initial period of experience viewing an unoccluded trajectory, or no experience with this particular stimulus. After exposure to the unoccluded trajectory for only 2 min, there was a reliable increase in 4-month-old infants' anticipatory eye movement when the infants subsequently viewed occluded-trajectory displays, relative to 4-month-old infants who did not receive this experience. This effect of training in 4-month-old infants was found to generalize to another category of trajectory orientation. Older infants received no additional benefit from training, most likely because they enter the task capable of forming robust object representations under these conditions. This finding provides compelling evidence that very brief training facilitated formation of object representations, and suggests more generally that infants learn such representations from real-world experience viewing objects undergoing occlusion and disocclusion.

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