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Infants' understanding of transparency : a reinterpretation of studies using the object retrieval task and visual cliff (learning, developmental theories)

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Author Titzer, Robert Craig
Broad Subject Education
Psychology
Summary Previous research found that infants were better at retrieving objects from opaque boxes (when they cannot see the toy) than from transparent boxes (when they can see the toy). Diamond (1988) stated that infants have trouble with the transparent box because they need to inhibit their desire to reach directly toward the toy. This result is widely interpreted as support for a maturational account of development (e.g., Bjorklund & Harnishfeger, 1995; Diamond, 1990). The purpose of these experiments was to determine the role of experience in infants' understanding of transparency. Forty-five infants were assigned to either an opaque containers group, a transparent containers group, or a control group. The container groups were instructed to play with eight containers in their homes for about 10 minutes a day between the ages of 8 and 10 months. Infants were tested at age 9 months and age 10 months on the object retrieval task. The object retrieval task involves infants reaching for toys placed in small transparent and opaque boxes. The results of this study show that experience playing with containers significantly improves retrieval times and success rates on the object retrieval task for both container groups. This result is in direct opposition to Diamond's maturational account because she stated that experience plays only a small role in this process (Diamond, 1991). In a follow-up study, the infants who played with the containers were tested on the classic visual cliff (a Plexiglas-topped table, half of which appears opaque and half of which is transparent) at age 12.5 months. The infants who previously played with the transparent containers were significantly more likely to cross the cliff than the infants who played with opaque containers. This finding challenges some of the fundamental assumptions about this task. Previously, the visual cliff was thought to measure depth perception in nonhuman animals and fear in human infants. The results from this study are interpreted as evidence that the task also measures the perceptual recognition of transparency. Together, these experiments show that maturation is an insufficient explanation for perceptual-motor learning and argues that experience drives these changes in behaviors.
Language English
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