How have different research methods contributed to understanding how infants organise the world into classes, categories and concepts?
Psychologists regularly conduct research and construct scientific hypothesis while pushing the boundaries of psychology in a concerted effort to understand human nature, while answering complex questions in this important and intriguing area of study. Probably one of the most challenging fields facing psychologists is the study of children, especially in the area of cognitive development psychology. In addition to the ethical considerations, difficulties recruiting participants and inventing tasks that grab a child’s attention, cognitive developmental psychologist are facing greater challenges with investigating mental functions and processes that cannot be directly observed. Over the past century researcher’s on infant categorization abilities and the mental processes that lie behind its development was limited. This was due to the lack of adequate methods and technology to address the topic. However, innovative techniques that are now being employed are allowing researchers to explore a child’s ability to organise the countless stimuli they encompass on a daily basis. This essay aims to assess the new research methods being employed and their contribution towards a deeper understanding surrounding the development of classes, categories, and concepts during infancy.
Until the late twentieth century the common believe was that infants lack categorization abilities because they were unable to store information in their memory. This view has changed after the preferential looking paradigm introduced by Fantz (1963) in the1960’s. In his studies on infant visual perception, he discovered that after multiple exposures to identical stimuli, infants’ become habituated and the duration of their gaze towards the stimuli declines. Fantz (1963) also noticed that infants tend to look longer when presented with novel stimuli. Fantz (1963) findings provided strong evidence for the possibility of categorization abilities within infants. Categorization refers to the alignment of object that share common features into classes and categories (Oates et al, 2004). Thus, organized and accessible storage of memory is essential for recognizing a stimulus as part of a particular category. In fact, habituation accounted for an infants’ ability to distinguish between stimuli. Moreover, they have stored a memory of the object that was successfully retrieved and subsequently recognised as familiar during a later stage in time. Furthermore, the tendency of novelty preference discovered during Fantz (1963) studies has become a basic building block for the development of new methods for investigating an infant’s development (Oates et al, 2004).
One method based on this tendency is the familiarization/novelty preference method, which has been developed in order to investigate what factors are involved in concept development. The method consists of familiarization/novelty preference stages. In the familiarization stage, infants are presented with a number of familiarization trials in order to habituate a group of objects that belong to the same category. Once habituated to a particular category, infants are simultaneously introduced to two unseen objects which include a member of the familiar category and a novel category exemplar. If an infant spends more time looking at the exemplar of a novel category, it is assumed that the infant has formed a category representation within their memory during the familiarization phase (Oates et al, 2004).
The familiarization/novelty preference method is a structured laboratory experimental condition in which the independent variables could be manipulated by the researcher. For this reason the familiarization/novelty preference method is used not only to investigate the formation of category representation but also to explain the cognitive mechanisms behind it. For example,...
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