Ecological Approaches to Cognition: Essays in Honor of Ulric Neisser

By Eugene Winograd; Robyn Fivush et al. | Go to book overview

past 20 years has been to face this challenge, and the observation of young infants validated this effort.

The relation between direct perception and representation, how they differ, interact, and eventually contribute to the acquisition of knowledge is not only an adult cognition problem. It is also a fundamental issue of cognition in infancy.

From birth, infants are both sophisticated perceiver--actors and future- oriented probers of their environment. They suck effectively and are quick to detect the suckability of objects they contact orally (e.g., Rochat, 1983, 1987). On the other hand, they act in relation to goals, anticipating oral contacts that bring to completion coordinated actions (e.g., Blass et al., 1989; Butterworth & Hopkins, 1988; Rochat et al., 1988). If there is direct perception in the neonates, it does not account for the control of all behavior at birth. Newborns already show signs of prospection and anticipation, their behavior organized toward goals that apparently bypass the immediacy of direct perception and its tight coupling to action.

By the second month, the codevelopment of perception, action, and representation becomes increasingly evident as infants start to manifest interests beyond their own bodily sphere and in particular toward objects and people. When they engage in socially elicited smiling, for example, they do not appear to do so merely in a direct (immediate) fashion but rather in reference to a meaningful reading of the person's emotional expression and what should happen next in their social exchanges. Similar expectations are expressed by 2-month-olds in the context of learning novel perceptual consequences of their own actions on physical objects.

If the research examples I used to describe the behavior of infants 2 months and younger might still leave some room for an interpretation in terms of direct perception and affordance detection, the examples of behavior by 3- to 4-month-olds are unambiguously linked to the infants' ability to prolong perception via the power of their imagination.

In conclusion, direct perception and representation are facts of the mental life of babies, as they are part of our adult life. The apparent co-existence and codevelopment of these two processes from birth underscores the importance of understanding how they relate and complement each other. This understanding is at the core of Neisser's project and the observation of young infants demonstrates how essential this project is.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author expresses his appreciation to Sue Hespos and Tricia Striano for their help and comments. The research presented in this chapter was supported by grant No. SBR-9507773 from the National Science Foundation.

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