When a child is fully able to understand an object exists even if you cant see?

As your baby grows physically, she’s also gaining knowledge and coming to understand how the world around her works. One of the cognitive skills your baby will develop in her first year is understanding the concept of object permanence. Learn what exactly object permanence is and how you can help foster your baby’s understanding of it. You may be delighted to know that you’ll be playing lots of peek-a-boo!

What Is Object Permanence?

Object permanence is the concept that objects continue to exist even when they’re not in sight. Early on, babies don’t yet have the cognitive skills to understand that what they can’t see still exists. For young infants, the world around them contains only what they can see in front of them at any given moment. For example, if you were to leave your baby’s room, she may assume you’ve vanished into thin air. The same goes for concealing objects, such as when you cover a toy with a blanket. She will think the toy has disappeared forever. In time, your baby will begin to understand that you still exist even if she can’t see you, and that a hidden toy is still there under the blanket.

When Do Babies Start to Grasp Object Permanence?

Your baby will begin to understand the concept of object permanence when she is around 7 or 8 months old. You can tell that your baby is starting to understand object permanence if she starts looking around for a toy you've just hidden. Separation anxiety usually starts around this time, too. That’s when your baby may "cling" to you and may fuss and cry especially when you leave her sight or go away. In a way, separation anxiety is related to your baby not full understanding object permanence. With separation anxiety, your baby most likely will be in great distress when you leave the room because she doesn’t know that you’ll come back. Once she understands the concept of object permanence, she’ll know that she can expect your return, and she may even cry less while you’re away.

When Do Babies Have a Complete Understanding of Object Permanence?

At around 10 months old, your baby will most likely have a full understanding of the concept of object permanence. For example, if you hide a toy underneath a blanket, he’ll know to pick up the blanket and look for the toy. And if you hide the toy and then remove it from its hiding place and hide it someplace else, he will assume it still exists and will keep looking for it.

How Can You Help Your Baby Learn the Concept of Object Permanence?

Object permanence is a natural part of your baby’s cognitive development, and your little one will come to learn that objects continue to exist even when he can’t see them. You can help foster this aspect of cognitive development by playing hiding games like peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek, or by hiding and revealing objects. When your baby starts to understand object permanence — around 7 or 8 months old — try this simple game: Hide a favorite toy underneath a blanket, and when she’s looking away, remove it. Your baby may be puzzled as to where the toy went. Keep doing this game and eventually — closer to 10 months old — she’ll search for the missing toy, knowing it exists even though it’s not clearly visible. At this point, she'll have a fuller understanding of this concept. As your baby observes all the things that happen in the household, such as the comings and goings of siblings, parents, and pets, the concept of object permanence will become reinforced.

Is Peek-a-Boo an Example of Object Permanence?

Peek-a-boo is actually a great example of a game that can help your baby understand the concept of object permanence. You could also play other similar games with your baby. For example, during diapering hide your face with your hands, and then reveal your smiling face.

The Bottom Line

Seeing your baby grow and develop is a wonderful thing. There’s so much for your little one to learn about in the world. It’s incredible to watch your baby’s horizons expanding at breakneck speed. The concept of object permanence is just one of important things your baby is learning during this time, and it’s something you can help along. Try playing hide-and-seek with a favorite toy or peek-a-boo to help encourage your baby’s development. In time, your baby will learn that the toy hasn’t disappeared for good, and that mommy and daddy will always return.

  1. Jean Piaget
  2. Sensorimotor Stage
  3. Object Permanence

By Dr. Saul McLeod, published 2018, updated 2021

The main development during the sensorimotor stage is the understanding that objects exist and events occur in the world independently of one's own actions ('the object concept', or 'object permanence').

Object permanence means knowing that an object still exists, even if it is hidden. It requires the ability to form a mental representation (i.e. a schema) of the object.

For example, if you place a toy under a blanket, the child who has achieved object permanence knows it is there and can actively seek it. At the beginning of this stage the child behaves as if the toy had simply disappeared.

The attainment of object permanence generally signals the transition from the sensorimotor stage to the preoperational stage of development.

Blanket and Ball Study

Aim: Piaget (1963) wanted to investigate at what age children acquire object permanence.

Method: Piaget hid a toy under a blanket, while the child was watching, and observed whether or not the child searched for the hidden toy.

Searching for the hidden toy was evidence of object permanence. Piaget assumed that the child could only search for a hidden toy if s/he had a mental representation of it.

Results: Piaget found that infants searched for the hidden toy when they were around 8-months-old.

Conclusion: Children around 8 months have object permanence because they are able to form a mental representation of the object in their minds.

Evaluation: Piaget assumed the results of his study occur because the children under 8 months did not understand that the object still existed underneath the blanket (and therefore did not reach for it). However, there are alternative reasons why a child may not search for an object rather than lack of understanding of situation.

The child could become distracted or lose interest in the object and therefore lack the motivation to search for it, or simply may not have the physical coordination to carry out the motor movements necessary for the retrieval of the object (Mehler & Dupoux, 1994).

The A-not-B Error

The A-not-B error occurs when infants search for a hidden toy at the incorrect location when presented with two possible locations (Piaget, 1954).

The toy is repeatedly hidden at location A. After a short delay, infants are then allowed to reach for and retrieve the toy.

After a few trials the toy is then clearly hidden in location B. After a short delay, they are then allowed to reach for the toy.

Infants 8 to 10 months of age consistently reach to location A despite clearly seeing the toy hidden at location B.

Critical Evaluation

There is evidence that object permanence occurs earlier than Piaget claimed. Bower and Wishart (1972) used a lab experiment to study infants aged between 1 – 4 months old.

Instead of using a Piaget’s blanket technique they waited for the infant to reach for an object, and then turned out the lights so that the object was no longer visible. They then filmed the infant using an infrared camera. They found that the infant continued to reach for the object for up to 90 seconds after it became invisible.

Again, just like Piaget's study there are also criticisms of Bower's 'reaching in the dark' findings. Each child had up to 3 minutes to complete the task and reach for the object. Within this time period, it is plausible they may have successfully completed the task by accident.

For example, randomly reaching out and finding the object or even reaching out due to the distress of the lights going out (rather than reaching out with the intention of searching for an object).

Violation of Expectation Research

A further challenge to Piaget’s claims comes from a series of studies designed by Renee Baillargeon. She used 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 have not encountered before.

In a VOE experiment, an infant is first introduced to a novel situation. They are repeatedly shown this stimulus until they indicate, by looking away, that it is no longer new to them. In Baillargeon et al’s (1985, 1987) study, the habituation stimulus was a ‘drawbridge’ that moved through 180 degrees.

When a child is fully able to understand an object exists even if you cant see?

The infants are then shown two new stimuli, each of which is a variation on the habituation stimulus. In Baillargeon’s experiments, one of these test stimuli is a possible event (i.e. one which could physically happen) and the other is an impossible event (i.e. one that could not physically happen in the way it appears).

In the ‘drawbridge’ study, a coloured box was placed in the path of the drawbridge. In the possible event, the drawbridge stopped at the point where its path would be blocked by the box. In the impossible event, the drawbridge appeared to pass through the box and ended up lying flat, the box apparently having disappeared.

Baillargeon found that infants spent much longer looking at the impossible event. She concluded that this indicated surprise on the infants’ part and that the infants were surprised because they had expectations about the behavior of physical objects that the impossible event had violated.

In other words, the infants knew that the box still existed behind the drawbridge and, furthermore, that they knew that one solid object cannot just pass through another. The infants in this study were five months old, an age at which Piaget would say that such knowledge is quite beyond them.

APA Style References

Baillargeon, R. (1987). Object permanence in 3½-and 4½-month-old infants. Developmental psychology, 23(5), 655.

Baillargeon, R., Spelke, E. S. & Wasserman, S. (1985). Object Permanence in Five-Month-Old Infants. Cognition, 20, 191-208.

Bower, T. G. R., & Wishart, J. G. (1972). The effects of motor skill on object permanence. Cognition, 1, 165–172.

Mehler, J., & Dupoux, E. (1994). What Infants Know: The New Cognitive Science of Early Development. Blackwell Publishers.

Piaget, J. (1954). The construction of reality in the child. New York: Basic Books.

Piaget, J. (1963). The Psychology of Intelligence. Totowa, New Jersey: Littlefield Adams.

How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2018, June 06). Object permanence. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/Object-Permanence.html

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When a child is fully able to understand an object exists even if you cant see?

When a child is able to comprehend that an object is still there even when the child Cannot see it the child has reached which cognitive task?

At around 6 months, they will begin to understand object permanence. This means the child knows that objects continue to exist even if they can no longer see, hear, or feel them.

What stage does a child develop object permanence?

Piaget believed babies begin understanding object permanence around 8 months old. However, according to Pourdavoud, research now suggests it may develop as early as 4 to 7 months of age. Object permanence features prominently in the first of four stages of cognitive development that Piaget describes.

What are the 4 stages of Piaget's cognitive development?

Sensorimotor stage (0–2 years old) Preoperational stage (2–7 years old) Concrete operational stage (7–11 years old) Formal operational stage (11 years old through adulthood)

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