Thinking across Cultures

By Donald M. Topping; Doris C. Crowell et al. | Go to book overview

29
What develops in Infant Cognitive Development?

Leslie B. Cohen University of Texas at Austin

A major task for any researcher of infant cognition is to discover just what changes as infants become older and what remains the same. Traditional explanations of early cognitive development have focused on global issues such as whether that development proceeds in a gradual or in an abrupt, stage- like manner. Using our own research on infant visual perception and categorization as examples, I argue that these traditional explanations are inadequate. In order to understand any area of infant development, and infant cognition is no exception, one must analyze that area in terms of its relevant processes and the interactions among these processes. It is quite possible that over age some processes will change gradually, others more abruptly, and still others not at all. Furthermore, while it goes without saying that any understanding of infant cognitive development requires an extensive investigation of human infants at several different ages, I also hope to demonstrate how information obtained from adult humans as well as animals can aid in the investigation.

For many years we and others have been conducting experiments on infant visual habituation and memory. Our procedure has been to repeatedly present the same visual pattern to an infant to produce a decrease (or habituation) in the infant's looking and to subsequently present a novel pattern to see if the new pattern produces a subsequent increase (or dishabituation) in that same looking. In the late 1960s and early 1970s we were convinced that this habituation paradigm was tapping one aspect of infant cognition. Our argument went as follows: Habituation to a particular stimulus occurs because that stimulus had been repeatedly experienced in the past. Somehow, that prior experience carried over and influenced subsequent performance. But to be carried over, the experience must be retained. In other words, infant

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