More on perseveration…

Check this out!


Are you back? Ok, that was another example of a
perseverative or repetitive behaviour from a task you can try at home with your
baby. The child watches as you hide an object in one of two identical covered
locations. You can create these by just putting two identical covers (cloths?) over
two identical cups or other containers. Show the hiding object to your child
(something small that will fit in the container), then make sure they are
watching while you hide it in one of the cups. Remember to replace the cloth. Repeat
this using THE SAME location (location A) a few times. Try 3 or 4 times. Then
the next time, hide the object (making sure your child is watching) in the
other cup (location B). Replace the cloth cover. What happens? A typical infant
of around 9-10 months of age is likely to search for the object in location A
again, and not in location B, where they JUST SAW YOU HIDE IT!!   What can they possibly be
thinking? You know their eyes work!

This is called the A not B error.  The A not B task was developed by the famous developmental
psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget argued that the tendency to search again at
the A location on the first B location trial was related to the infant’s lack
of understanding of “object permanence” or the idea that an object continues to
exist even when it is out of sight. There has been some debate around why
children commit the A not B error. One of the biggies has
been that your darling, brilliant angel simply  cannot control the urge to reach at location A,
and  instead go with the new information that the object is now at location B.  Sound familiar?  It’s just like on the card-sorting task we talked about
earlier this week. The A not B error is usually overcome by 12 months of age.

Try it. You'll see. If you have a 7-10 month old at home, try it now and try again around 12 months of age. You'll be amazed at the difference. And I'd love to hear about it! For more on the practical implications of this stage, in particular, what it might have to do with sleep problems, check out these older posts.

6 thoughts on “More on perseveration…

  1. BTW, that was another “Tracy” post. Still trying to get a handle on this author thing. I’m glad you liked it. I tried it with my son at that age and he did exactly as expected. It’s so striking when you see it for yourself because you know that he JUST WATCHED YOU hide the thing in the second hiding container. It’s bizarre when they nonetheless reach for the first one, even sometimes while looking at the second one!

  2. I went home last night and tried this with my 10 month old girl. Epic fail, but entertaining. Since I don’t have a box like the one in the video, I first used two corners of a quilt and hid one of her blue circle shapes (her favorite) under one corner. She picked up the quilt but managed to pick up the shape along with it so she couldn’t find it on the floor and got mad. Okay, try again.
    This time I decided to hide it under one of two plastic cups. My mistake was using two “grown-up” cups that she had never seen before. I showed her the blue circle, then covered it up with the cup and put both cups in front of her. She immediately picked up both cups and banged them together, completely ignoring the blue circle. After a few more tries ended the same way, I decided to use my cell phone (absolute favorite toy). At this point she picked up the cup, grabbed the cell phone, and crawled away to chew on it in peace. :)
    So I’m not doubting the science involved, just my own ability to conduct experiments!

  3. Love it. Very cute. BTW< your story is a good example of the type of challenges that can go on when doing research with young children. Good for you for trying! And hey, a good chew on a favourite toy for your child gives YOU a couple of minutes to breath. Mind you, I wouldn’t want to be next to use that cell phone.

  4. I just tried it today with my 9.5 month-old. Two yellow cups, 1 red ring, all familiar toys. He went for A (not B) as predicted, very funny!!! But after 1 error, he went correctly for B.
    We reversed and repeated the experiment (B not A) with the same results – can you tell I’m a bit of a nerd? Actually I think I kept doing it just for the laugh!
    But do the studies tell us how long the baby will persist in the error until self-correcting?

  5. Isn’t it amazing when you see it for yourself?
    Children vary a lot in exactly when they conquer these things and in how long it takes. When we cite ages, it’s usually based on average age. So no worries if your child sometimes goes past the average, chance are that on other things they’ll be faster than average. Practice can also change things, so perhaps if you worked on this a lot, the baby will get the hang of it sooner than he or she otherwise would. That’s not to say that sooner is always better. Milestones take time to reach precisely because the baby or child needs to do the processing involved to reach them. That’s when the learning is taking place.
    Try again around 12 months and report back. And don’t worry, you are in the company of nerds!

Leave a Reply