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Scientists shed new light on speed of infant learning

The question of how and when we develop our knowledge of object behavior such as knowing that when a ball rolls behind a sofa, that it is likely to roll out the other side is an ongoing puzzle in cognitive science. Previously, scientists had thought that infants learned to understand this concept through manual exploration. However, subsequent research indicated that infants developed an understanding of objects even before they had the ability to reach and grasp, leading scientists to postulate that object knowledge could be something babies are born with.

But new research by a team of psychologists, led by Scott Johnson of New York University, provides the first conclusive evidence that infants actually learn object concepts at a very young age between three to six months and that they do so through visual observation.

The research sheds new light on how soon and how quickly infants learn, as well as their ability to build an understanding of object concepts through stationary observation of the standard home environment. The findings were published in the August 25 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our research provides the first conclusive documentation of how and when infants learn about object concepts, and serves as a strong argument against theories that infant knowledge in this area is innate," said Johnson. "It had previously been presumed that six-month-old infants could not have had enough time to acquire this type of knowledge, but what's truly amazing is how rapidly they're able to pick up these concepts."

To conduct their experiments, the researchers employed a unique eye-tracking experiment with four- and six-month-old infants, who were shown a 32-inch computer screen depicting a ball rolling horizontally back and forth. After two minutes of exposure to this trajectory, the infants were then shown a ball moving across the same screen space but its movements were temporarily obscure
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Contact: Shonna Keogan
shonna.keogan@nyu.edu
212-998-6797
New York University
25-Aug-2003


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