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Object Permanence: The 6 Stages in Infant Growth and Development

As a family life and child development expert, JP has devoted years in nurturing students and strengthening family relations.

My daughter, Yna

My daughter, Yna

What Is Object Permanence?

Simply put, this is the idea that when an object is out of sight, the person realizes that it still exists. As logical as it may seem, infants do not exhibit this skill early on in life.

The field of developmental psychology explores object permanence along with other social and mental development milestones of infant development.

The 6 Stages

According to studies, there are six stages involved in the development of object permanence. Here's a quick discussion of each:

1. Primary Circular Reactions

Developmental milestone from 1–4 months

At this stage, infants follow objects as they move. Moreover, infants remain looking at the location where the object was “discovered’. Although this behavior lasts only for a few seconds, it clearly shows that at this stage, infants respond to objects and familiar images. During this stage, the attention of the baby becomes more intentional rather than merely reflexive.

2. Reflex Scheme

Developmental milestone from 0–1 month

At this stage, the neonatal starts to learn about their body. Although at this time, their vision is still blurred, infants tend to do visual tracking. They detect movements, contrasts in color and other cues. But what is important at this stage is that they are beginning to be exposed to visual stimuli. This is crucial to infant growth and development.

However, at this stage, they still do not have object permanence. It is safe to assume that at this stage infants still do not have an idea of the existence of objects. Moreover, the concept that objects may “disappear” is not yet developed.

3. Secondary Circular Reactions

Developmental milestone from 4–8 months

One of the highlights of this stage is when the child reaches for an object that is partially hidden. This shows the baby’s familiarity with the object. Moreover, it illustrates that the infant recognizes the parts of a whole.

However, if the object is completely hidden, the baby does not make any effort to look for it. Although there is coordination between visual cues and comprehension of objects, the infant still lacks object permanence.

4. Coordination of the Secondary Reactions

Developmental milestone from 8–12 months

At this stage, the infant retrieves hidden objects. Although this seems trivial, it exhibits a huge leap in the baby’s cognitive development. During this phase, rudimentary object permanence emerges. In addition, infants exhibiting this stage are more goal-oriented. This means their desire to grasp and look for objects is more intentional.

However, a baby will not look for an object hidden at a different location. This means when you hide the same object in two different places, the baby will simply search one—usually the place where they find the object. This is called the “A not B error”.

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5. Tertiary Circular Reaction

Developmental milestone from 12–18 months

During this stage, a baby can find hidden objects. However, this skill is limited by the infant’s visual field. To put this in a different way, the baby simply looks for hidden objects within their visual field.

Don't be disappointed since this is an important developmental milestone in the infant's life. At this stage, the baby begins to construct a very concrete view of their world. This is a significant step in the child's awareness and interaction.

6. New Means Through Mental Combination

Developmental milestone from 18–24 months

During this stage, the baby has an understanding of object permanence. Moreover, the child’s cognitive processes are more complex than what people may see. For one, the child no longer falls for the A not B error. Moreover, the baby develops mental images and uses them to solve problems—in this case finding hidden objects.

Object permanence is just one of many cognitive development processes that a baby will develop. Providing learning experiences that will scaffold a baby’s development will be beneficial and of course a lot of fun for both the parent and the baby.

Object Permanence Test

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 JP Carlos


JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on October 28, 2012:

Hello tinkerbelle78,

Psychology is definitely amazing. When we learn how to apply it in our daily lives it becomes even more useful.

tinkerbelle78 on October 24, 2012:

I've recently begun to learn about object permanence with regard to my 19 month old son. I find psychology to be absolutely amazing! Thank you for taking the time to write this hub!

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on September 04, 2012:

hank you Kai0224liu, That's my daughter Yna. I took the photo when she's just a few days old. Babies grow so quickly.

kaikai from TX on September 04, 2012:

Omg she is so cute.

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on July 11, 2012:

Hello Ayenney,

It's always a good idea to provide learning experiences to infants. My wife and I make sure that every interaction with our duaghter supports her development cognitively, emotionally or physically. I do hope you get to use the information here.

Ayenney from Canada on July 11, 2012:

Very informative hub! Moms like me would definitely dig this. Thumbs up!

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on July 04, 2012:

Hi there anusujith,

Object permanence is every important in the development of a child. It can affect anything from cognitive development to emotional development. I hope this helps you with your new baby.

Anoop Aravind A from Nilambur, Kerala, India on July 03, 2012:

Oh I missed this for my lifetime... Thank you very much for sharing this... Pretty useful....

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on March 06, 2012:

Hello Thumbi7. We do have a lot of things to learn about infant development. The more we learn the more we can help them develop their full potential.

JR Krishna from India on March 05, 2012:

This is a very informative hub on the developmental psychology of infants.

There is a lot to understand about an infant's world!!

Thanks for SHARING

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