An Examination of Infants' Understanding of References to Absent Objects

Ganea, Patricia Arilene, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
DeLoache, Judy, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

The goal of this research was to establish experimentally the degree to which 13- and l4 - month - old children understand words symbolically by examining their ability to understand references to absent objects. Children heard the name of a familiar toy that was out of view. The question was whether hearing the name of the familiar toy would lead them to look at, point to, or search for it. The procedure was basically the same in each of three studies. First, there was a play phase in which children played with a toy and learned a name for it. Then the toy was put out of View and the experimenter read a book to the child. The first two studies each had two conditions. Children in the matching condition heard a story that was about the toy that they had played with before, whereas children in the non - matching condition listened to a story in which a different name was used. The matching condition provided a measure of children's understanding of references to absent objects. The non - matching condition was included as a baseline measure for children's tendency to search for the absent toy irrespective of the name that they heard during the book. The book was the same in each condition, it contained pictures but none of the target toy or of another character. The hypothesis of the study was that children in the matching condition would more often look, point or even search for the out - of - view toy than would children in the non - matching condition. This would indicate that the name of toy mentioned during the book brought the referent and its location to the child's mind. In line with our prediction, children who heard the familiar name during the story looked, pointed and searched for the out - of - View target toy more often than did children who heard a different name. The results across all studies suggest that 13- and 14 - month - old children do understand references to absent objects. However, at this age their understanding is fragile.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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