Cognitive processes are necessary for learning, without it one does not have the tools to acquire, accommodate and assimilate information. One of the debated issues in cognitive development is how infants demonstrate learning and memory. Piaget (1970) in his theory of cognitive stages espoused the idea that infants at 9 months old exhibit object permanence, which means that the child has gained the understanding that an object continues to exist when it is no longer in view.
This milestone in the young child’s development has been regarded as an indicator of learning and memory. However early studies on the cognitive processes of infants have shown that they are not lacking in cognitive processes, they are able to demonstrate sensitivity to visual objects, movement and sound. Hence, the existence of object permanence and at what age it is demonstrated has been the subject of numerous studies and these always involved hidden objects (Baillargeon, 2004).
How infants respond to hidden objects imply that even at a young age, human beings are capable of basic cognitive processes. The literature review of Baillargeon, 2004 about infant’s reasoning of hidden objects have found that infants at a young age can identify the changes in the object when they learn a variable in that event and they can maintain this learning within 24 hours.
Infants at an early age also give some evidence of memorial processes such as responding differently to familiar and novel objects (Shinskey & Munakamata, 2005) wherein it was found that infants reached more for the familiar objects when it is hidden than when it is visually presented. This establishes that infants have the ability to process the characteristics of the familiar object and that this may prove that infants retain some of the characteristics of the hidden familiar object. It can be said that infants do have memories and that as an untapped resource much remains to be discovered.
Previous studies on hidden objects and learning have found that learning is maintained adequately in 24 hours, for example a study on kicking movement using the mobile paradigm found that task specific kicking was learned and maintained within 24 hours, although kicking was found to extend over 1 week, it was no longer task specific (Heathcock, et. al. , 2005). A similar study that used ankle weights and mobile reinforcement in measuring learning through kicking found that the constraints (weight and reinforcement) affected the frequency and kicking pattern of infants (Chen, et.
al. , 2002). This indicates that infants are capable of learning new tasks easily and that it is stored in short term memory and without further learning or interventions, the learned response would become extinct. Short term memory is really a working memory, a place where conscious mental processes are performed, it is limited in capacity and it cannot hold very much information simultaneously. Since the infant’s memory is not fully developed, its short term memory is expected to be relatively short.
Despite the advances in cognitive psychology that have led us to understand more about the intricacies of cognitive development especially in the early years of life (infanthood) there still exists a gap in what we know of learning and object permanence in infants. This has been due in part to the methodologies employed by previous researches which have mostly employed eye-tracking (Johnson et. al. , 2003; Ruffman, et. al. , 2005), and the use of looking tasks (Bogartz, Shinskey & Speaker, 1997;Meltzoff & Moore, 1998; Munakata, McClelland, Johnson & Siegler, 1997).
A more complex and technologically advanced method in studying object permanence in infants have investigated the function in terms of brain activity to find a neural basis for its development in infants (Kaufman, et. al. , 2005) as well as measuring hemoglobin concentration in the frontal cortex (Baird, et. al. , 2002). The studies on object permanence focused more on eye tracking and looking tasks while relatively few studies used reaching (Shinskey & Munakamata, 2005).
A contributory reason for the differences in the findings and knowledge about object permanence center around the age at which it can be detected, Piaget (1970) said that object permanence occurs at around 9 months but studies have shown that it is present even at 4 months of age (Johnson et. al. , 2003; Ruffman, et. al. , 2005) and that by 6 months old, object permanence have been adequately developed (Kaufman, et. al. , 2005; Baird, et. al. , 2002; Shinskey & Munakamata, 2005).
However, complex tasks that measured object permanence like reaching (Shinskey & Munakamata, 2005) have only been done with 7. 5 months old infants since reaching is a relatively more complex task than just looking and would presumably involve more perceptual processes. This study therefore aims to contribute to theory building and to validate the earlier claims of previous researches. Studying how human beings acquire and use cognitive processes would have future implications in our conceptions of learning which makes this study timely and desirable.
Thus, this study seeks to investigate object permanence in 4 month old infants using reaching tasks of hidden objects as a method to demonstrate learning and to ascertain whether learning is stored in short term memory. The use of reaching tasks at this age in studying object permanence is a first and attempts to reveal that infants has the controlled muscle ability to reach for objects. It is therefore hypothesized that when the object is presented, the infant would reach for the toy (arm movement) and that when the toy is not presented there would be no arm movement in repeated trials.
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