Object Permanence and Piaget’s Development Theory

The term object persistence is used to describe a child’s ability to know that an object continues to exist even if it no longer sees or hears an object. Those who play the Cee Ee game (peek-a-boo) with a very young child can probably understand how this works. When an object disappears from the field of view, especially babies under a certain age are often upset because the item is lost. This is because the object is too small to understand that it continues to exist, even though it cannot be seen.

Object Persistence

The concept of object persistence plays an important role in the cognitive development theory created by psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget; He advocates that children can understand such touch, sight, taste and movement functions with their motor abilities in a period of approximately two years, which is the development process of motor skills from birth.

In early infancy, babies are extremely egocentric. They have no idea that the world exists separately from their own perspectives and experiences. In order to understand that objects continue to exist even when they are not seen, babies must first develop a mental representation of the object.


Piaget spoke of these mental images as schema, and the scheme is the state of categorizing information about something in the world. For example, he can understand that a baby will be fed in early infancy by schematating a bottle or breast. As the child grows up and has more experience, his schemes multiply and become much more complicated. Through the processes of assimilation and shelter, children develop new mental categories, expand their existing categories, and even completely replace their existing schemes.

How Does Object Persistence Develop?

Piaget argued that there are six sub processes that occur during the development phase of motor skills. These processes are as follows:

From Birth to 1 Month: Reflexes

In the earliest phase of the motor skills stage, reflexes are the primary way for babies to understand and explore the world. Reflexive responses such as placement, sucking and scare are how the baby interacts with its environment.

1-4 Months: Development of New Schemas

Next, primary circular reactions lead to the formation of new schemes. A baby can accidentally suck his thumb and notice that it is fun. He will then repeat the action because he will find it enjoyable.

4 – 8 Months: Intentional Actions

When 4-8 months old, babies start to pay much more attention to the world around them, and they will even take action to create an answer. Piaget called these secondary circular reactions.

8 to 12 Months: More Discovery

Between 8 and 12 months, deliberate actions become much more pronounced. Babies will shake toys to produce sounds and their responses to the environment will become more harmonious and coordinated.

12-18 Months: Trial and Error

Tertiary circular reactions occur in the fifth stage. These include trial and error, and babies can start taking actions to attract attention from others.

18-24 Months: Object Persistence Revealed

Piaget believes that representative thinking began to emerge between 18 and 24 months. At this point, children can create mental representations of objects. They can now understand object persistence because they can symbolically imagine things that cannot be seen.

Object Permanence Detection

Piaget will show a doll a toy before showing or hiding the object to determine if object persistence is present. In one version of his experiment, Piaget will hide a toy under a blanket and then observe if the baby can search for the object. While some babies search for the object, some babies are surprised by the loss of the object, have mixed feelings, or seem sad.

While Piaget argues that children who are upset that the toy is lost has not completed their object permanence development, babies looking for the toy have reached this developmental turning point. In Piaget’s experiments, this tended to happen at the age of 8 to 9 months.

Blanket and Ball Study

Objective: Piaget (1963) investigates at what age children gain object permanence.

Method: Piaget hid a toy under a blanket while watching the child and observed whether the child was looking for the hidden toy. Searching for the hidden toy is proof of object permanence, and Piaget assumes that the child can look for a hidden toy only if he has a mental representation.

Results: Piaget found that babies were looking for the toy that was hidden at about 8 months old.

Conclusion: Children of about 8 months have object permanence because they can form a mental representation of the object in their minds.

Evaluation: Piaget assumed that the results of her study could not reach this development, as children under 8 months did not understand that the object still exists under the blanket. However, there are alternative reasons why a child cannot look for an object, these are:

The child may be distracted or lose interest in the object, so he may lack motivation to seek it, or may not have physical coordination to perform the motor movements necessary to undo the object (Mehler and Dupoux, 1994).

Critical Evaluation

There is evidence that object continuity occurs earlier than Piaget claims. Bower and Wishart (1972) used a laboratory experiment to examine infants 1-4 months old. Instead of using the blanket technique of Piaget, he waited for the baby to reach an object and then turned off the lights so that the object was no longer visible. He then filmed the baby using an infrared camera. They found that the baby continued to reach the object for up to 90 seconds after it became invisible.

Again, like Piaget’s work, there are criticisms of Bower’s findings of reaching in the dark. Each child has up to 3 minutes to complete the task and reach the object, and it is reasonable that during this time they accidentally completed the job. For example, it can be randomly lying down and finding the object or even lying down due to the shortage of lights. (instead of reaching with the intention to search for an object).

Recent Findings

Although Piaget’s theory is extremely influential and popular today, it has also been the subject of criticism. One of the biggest criticisms of Piaget’s work is that children often underestimate their abilities. Research on object permanence has also questioned some of Piaget’s results. With clues, researchers have shown that young children up to four months can understand that objects persist even if they are not visible or heard.

Other researchers have suggested alternative explanations as to why babies are not looking for hidden toys. Very young children may not have the necessary physical coordination to search for the item. In other cases, babies may have nothing to do with finding the hidden object.


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