Object
permanence is
the ability of a child to understand that objects exist even if they cannot
directly be sensed (Clause). Jean Piaget claimed that children do not develop
object permanence until they are around nine months, although an experiment
conducted by Baillargeon, Spelke, and Wasserman indicated younger children may
also possess this trait (Baillargeon et al., 1985). In this
experiment, infants witnessed a possible and an impossible event in which a
screen moved back and forth, sometimes stopping after colliding with a hidden
box. If the infants had object permanence, they were expected to show surprise
that the screen stopped in its path. The infants watched the impossible event
significantly longer than the possible event. This indicated they: understood
the box still existed in the same location after it disappeared and “Expected the
screen to stop against the occluded box, and were surprised, or puzzled, when
it failed to do so,” (Baillargeon et al., 1985, p. 1). These results disproved Piaget’s
claim that infants do not possess object permanence until they are nine months
old, since those four months younger seemingly demonstrated the ability. This
experiment and these findings are relevant to this course since acquiring
object permanence is a sign of cognitive development. In addition, Piaget’s
stages of development and his cognitive theoretical perspective were used as
context and a background to the experiment, both of which overlap with this
course’s curriculum.

Experiments which use infants as test
subjects often have methodological problems which hinder the conclusiveness of
their results, as unpredictable variables are more abundant with infants than with
older children or adults. Baillargeon, Spelke, and Wasserman were aware of this problem and
adjusted by creating an experiment that did not rely on: “(1) The extension or
reproduction of an action, or (2) knowledge about superficial properties of
object disappearances” (Baillargeon et al., 1985, p. 195). This was a
strength of the article, as the infants did not need to do too much to demonstrate
object permanence. Some experiments require the infants to perform coordinated actions;
in this experiment, the infants’ only role was to observe. However, one
weakness of the experiment was that all infants tested were from the
Philadelphia area. This raises questions about whether the results are
replicable with infants of different areas that have been nurtured and
developed in different cultures and environments. Another more significant
weakness lies in the role that familiarity played in determining looking times.
A similar experiment conducted in 2000 found that the familiarity caused by
habituation trials in the Baillargeon et al. experiment affected looking times,
suggesting that those results “Should not be interpreted as indicating object
permanence or solidity knowledge in young infants,” (Bogartz et al., 2000, p.
1).

            There are experiments involving
object permanence that can further research human development. In the
penultimate paragraph of the article, a connection is suggested between object
permanence and an infant’s knowledge of time and space, since the infants recognize
an object can only pass through vacant space. This experiment shows a
connection between object permanence and space. However, I would like to see
object permanence tested with time playing a more significant role. Would the
results of this experiment be similar if the infants waited for longer periods
of time between the possible and impossible event? In addition, other
experiments could test whether object permanence is present in infants younger
than five months old. While these two experiments would help psychologists
determine when object permanence is obtained or what affects it, experiments
that help determine what infants specifically know about the movements of
objects would better impact our knowledge of human development.