Neuroscience on Object Permanence - Dictionary of Arguments
Slater I 90
Object permanence/neuroscience: Tallon-Baudry and colleagues (1998)(1) reported that there was a significant increase in temporal cortex activity when adults were prompted to keep the image of a hidden object in mind. This finding along with the discovery that this type of activity can be detectible in the infant brain (Csibra et al., 2000)(2) formed the basis for an entirely new line of object permanence research in infants by Kaufman and colleagues. First, Kaufman, Csibra, and Johnson (2003)(3) measured brain responses in infants while they watched videos of a toy train entering and leaving a toy tunnel. Each trial was predetermined to be a “possible” or “impossible” trial.
1) Infants looked longer at the impossible event than the possible event.
2) Kaufman et al. found significant right-temporal cortex activity of infants in the times and conditions in which there was a hidden object that could elicit mental representation. This activity was temporally and spatially similar to Tallon-Baudry’s (1998)(1) finding with adults suggesting that the neural processes underlying hidden object representation in infants and adults are similar.
Slater I 91
Arguably, if out of sight were really out of mind for young infants, it would also be “out of brain,” and this was not the case. However, this argument is only partially persuasive as infants might be remembering the object without any real conception or perception of the object having continued to exist. That is, this brain activity could relate to either an expectation formed between the reaching hand and the object’s appearance or it could relate to a memory for the object unrelated to a perception that the object continues to exist.
Solution: Kaufman, Csibra, and Johnson (2005)(3) presented infants with pictures of toys that disappeared in one of two different ways:
they appeared to become occluded (which is consistent with continued existence). This time, no hand was involved in the action. The study was chosen to test the hypothesizes that this brain activity is related to a perception of the object’s continued existence rather than a simple memory trace for something that had been previously seen. Cf. >Object permanence/Baillargeon; >Vs Baillargeon.
Again, the results were that right-temporal brain activity increased following an object occlusion event but not after a disintegration event, indicating that right-temporal activity in the infant brain (as in the in the adult brain) is related to object processing relevant to continued existence and is important for the understanding of object permanence.
In another study (Southgate, Csibra, Kaufman, & Johnson, 2008)(4) there was an increase in brain activity related to a toy’s occlusion. Interestingly though, this activity was not apparent when a face was hidden. This leads to the intriguing possibility that, at least for young infants, the brain mechanisms used to remember the existence of objects are not used to remember faces.
Slater I 92
This result is consistent with behavioral studies demonstrating that infants are not very good at remembering the locations of occluded faces (Mareschal & Johnson, 2003)(5).
1. Tallon-Baudry, C., Bertrand, O., Peronnet, F., & Pernier, J. (1998). Induced y-band activity during the delay of a visual short-term memory task in humans. The Journal of Neuroscience, 18, 4244–4254.
2..Csibra, G., Davis, G., Spratling, M. W., & Johnson, M. H. (2000). Gamma oscillations and object processing in the infant brain. Science, 290, 1582–1585.
3. Kaufman, J., Csibra, G., & Johnson, M. H. (2005). Oscillatory activity in the infant brain reflects object maintenance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102, 15271–15274.
4. Southgate, V., Csibra, G., Kaufman, J., & Johnson, M. H. (2008). Distinct processing of objects and faces in the infant brain. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 741–9.
5. Mareschal, D., & Johnson, M. H. (2003). The “what” and “where” of object representations in infancy. Cognition, 88, 259–276.
Denis Mareschal and Jordy Kaufman, „Object permanence in Infancy. Revisiting Baillargeon’s Drawbridge Experiment“ in: Alan M. Slater & Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications_____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012