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Infant individuation: Where we are and where we are going

Gretchen Van de Walle

Thursday, November 04, 2004, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Rutgers University, Department of Psychology, Newark

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The ability to determine how many distinct objects are present in a given scene or event is fundamental to our capacity to function in and learn about the world around us.  Even very young infants individuate objects that can be seen unambiguously to follow distinct trajectories through time and space.  Because both humans and other objects constantly move into and out of view, however, objects� spatiotemporal histories are often either unknown or ambiguous.  Under such circumstances, adults employ a range of characteristics (e.g., color, shape, function, category membership) to individuate.  Despite a decade of research investigating infants� ability to individuate successively viewed objects, little consensus has emerged concerning either the developmental course or the nature of the representational skills underlying this ability in infancy.  In this talk, I will present data from a set of studies that investigate, within a single task context, infants� ability to use various kinds of object properties to individuate.  I will suggest that the ability to individuate objects does not depend on a distinct, emerging capacity to represent object kinds that develops rapidly at the end of the first year, but is rather an extended process that is strongly affected by the information-processing demands presented by specific tasks and objects.  I will discuss implications of current data on individuation for characterizing infants� representational skills and suggest potentially fruitful avenues for further research.

Gretchen Van de Walle