EARLY INFANT ABILITIES: BAILLARGEON
EARLY INFANT ABILITIES: BAILLARGEON
Direct Perception and Cross-Modal Integration
put forward a nativist view that infants are able to make use of the rich perceptual information about the world. (He did however also accept that there will be some learning about perception during development.) One of the processes that Gibson proposes infants have is direct perception. This is immediate and automatic understanding of a stimulus (e.g instantly knowing how far away an object is).
If infants have direct perception then they should also have cross-modal integration. This is understanding that there is a relationship between different dimensions of a stimulus (e.g knowing that there's a relation between a sound and the location of that sound, or knowing how an object will feel from how it looks).
Meltzoff and Borton (1979)
conducted a study into cross-modal integration. 4 week olds sucked on one of two types of dummies (plain or stippled) for 90 seconds without seeing the dummies. They were then shown both dummies and length of gaze was recorded to determine which one they paid the most attention too. Infants looked longer at the dummy they had sucked, supporting the idea of cross-modal integration as the babies knew there was a relationship between the dimensions: the appearance of the dummy and how it felt in the mouth.
This challenges Piaget's account as he suggested that children slowly construct knowledge of the physical world during the four stages of cognitive development. However, Meltzoff and Borton's results suggest that children have an innate understanding of the relationship between dimensions.
The 'Core Knowledge' Theory
In Piaget's theory, infants acquire their knowledge of objects by interacting with the world around them. It's through having experiences interacting with objects that the child gradually realises that things have an independent existence of their own, that they occupy space and persist in time. This takes time for the child to work out, which is why object permanence is only present after about 8 or 9 months. But Baillargeon's results seem to show that object knowledge is present from a much earlier age, one at which infants have very limited experience of interacting with objects. So where does there object knowledge come from?
suggested two possibilities. Either infants are born with the capacity to acquire object knowledge very easily (innate fast learning) or they are born with an understanding of the properties of objects (innate object knowledge).
The latter hypothesis was developed by
Spelke et al (1992)
, who argue that infants are born with what they call core knowledge. This core knowledge includes a basic understanding of the physical world, including the properties of objects such as solidity of objects. Each object occupies space; objects cannot pass through each other.
At birth, these rules are rather primitive. As the child develops the rules become more sophisticated and interconnected.
suggests that the child's understanding develops from experiences where it's primitive ideas are challenged, which is in agreement with Piaget. However, Baillargeon and Spelke's theory that infants are born with some understanding of the world conflicts fundamentally with Piaget's theory that the child's understanding comes entirely from its own experiences. Whilst Piaget takes an empiricist position, Baillargeon and Spelke are nativists.
Evaluation of Baillargeon's Research
There are many studies that have used Baillargeon's methodology, and they consistently produce similar results. As a consequence, the core knowledge theory is widely accepted amongst developmental psychologists.
However, there are those that object to Baillargeon and Spelke's interpretation of the VOE findings. Their criticism is that Baillargeon has gone far beyond what the data actually shows. She says that when infants look for longer at the impossible events, this is because they're surprised because their expectations have been violated.
Schoner and Thelen (2004)
point out that all the VOE studies definitely show that the infants notice a difference between the two events they've been shown. Schoner and Thelen argue that there are many reasons why an infant may prefer looking at the 'impossible events'. For example, in the drawbridge study, the impossible event involves more movement than the possible event. They say that the innate knowledge of the physical world is no more than the effect of confounding variables.
Good empirical evidence supporting Baillargeon's ideas
Cognitive structures are hypothetical constructs, and cannot be tested easily, making them unfalsifiable
Baillargeon's VOE Studies
Renee Baillargeon tested infants' understanding of object permanence using a technique that has come to be known as the violation of expectation (VOE) paradigm. It exploits the fact that infants tend to look for longer at things they don't expect. This tests their knowledge of properties of objects. In a VOE experiment, an infant is first introduced to a novel situation. They're repeatedly shown this stimulus until they indicate, by looking away, they it's no longer new to them. This is known as habituation.
Baillargeon et al (1985)
5 month old infants were habituated to a drawbridge that moved through 180 degrees. They were then shown two new stimuli where a box was placed in the path of the drawbridge. In the possible event, the drawbridge came to a stop when it came into contact with the box. In the impossible event, the drawbridge looked like it passed through the box.
The infants look for significantly longer at the impossible event
The infants looked longer at the impossible event because they were surprised. They were aware that the box was behind the drawbridge and knew that it shouldn't be able to pass through it. The 5 month olds had object permanence.
Baillargeon and Graber (1988)
3 month olds were habituated to a truck rolling down a ramp and then passing behind a screen. They then watched the screen being lifted, and a box being placed either beside or on the track. (where it would block the truck from passing). The screen was then put back. In both the possible and impossible events, the truck passed behind the screen and appeared at the other side.
Infants looked for significantly longer at the impossible event
Infants knew that the box was still behind the screen even though they couldn't see it, and knew that it should've blocked the truck from passing. 3 month olds show evidence of object permanence.
the belief that experience from the environment plays little or no role in the development of cognitive abilities. This is similar to the 'nature' side of the nature-nurture debate
the belief that knowledge of the world is learned from information acquired through the senses and environmental experience. This is similar to 'nurture'
Summary of Nativism
A lot of findings suggest that at a very young age, infants have an awareness of object permanence because they look longer at impossible than possible events. However, as Piaget found, infants have difficulty carrying out actions to obtain an object that is hidden.
It has been suggested that the perceptual system of infants is sufficiently developed to distinguish between possible and impossible events. However, when infants need to search for something their actions are controlled by a greater range of factors. For example, in the case of the A not B error, infants may go back to familiar routines, or when an object is covered this disrupts planned activities.