Object Permanence: The 6 Stages in Infant Growth and Development
Out of sight, out of mind
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 development psychology explores object permanence along with other social and mental development milestones of infant development.
According to studies, there are 6 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 his/her 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 he finds the object. This is called the “A not B error”.
"A not B Error" test
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 his/her visual field. Don't be disappointed since this is an important developmental milestone in the infant's life. At this the baby begins to construct a very concrete view of his/her 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 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 it 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.