Using the Habituation Technique to Evaluate a Piagetian Hypothesis

The purpose of this paper is to use the habituation technique in young infants to evaluate one hypothesis derived from Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. I will compare 5-months olds in a task that involves possible and impossible outcomes. Piaget’s theory specifies the cognitive competencies of children of this age. 1a. Children in the sensorimotor stage experience the world through their sensory impressions and motor activities. They survey their surroundings by looking, hearing, touching, mouthing, and grasping. 1b. Object permanence is the idea that objects continue to exist even if they are out of sight. Piaget explained the absence of object permanence in young infants. He showed an infant a toy and then covered it with a piece of cloth. The infant did not search for the toy and acted as if it never existed. According to Piaget, object permanence emerge at 8 months because the infants memory have developed enough at that time.. 1c. Stranger anxiety is the fear of stranger that infant display during by about 8 months of age. Object permanence and stranger anxiety emerge at the same time because the child can recognize familiar faces and objects by 8 months old. When object permanence occurs, infants become accustomed to seeing similar objects or individuals. Stranger anxiety develops when new concepts enter their perception and do not match the pre-existing object concept. Thus, the infant must have object permanence skill to develop stranger anxiety. 1d. McCrink and Wynn theory of cognitive competency state that object permanence occurs before the sensorimotor stage and 5-months old infants are capable of performing simple numerical operations. McCrink and Wynn view opposed Piaget’s because child growth is a gradual process and it does not occur in stages. Cognitive development involves more quantitative growth than stage based shifts.

Habituation is a method that might be used to explore predictions of Piaget’s theory.2a. Habituation is the decrease in response after experiencing repeated stimuli. In habituation technique, infants interest decreases as they become familiar with the repeated stimuli,. On the other hand, dishabituation is the restoration of response after going through habituation. A dishabituated person respond to older stimuli as if they are new. The habituation technique help researchers test the cognitive capacity of infants by measuring how quickly their response to certain stimuli decreases. Habituation is used to measure cognitive processes in infants. Infants are born with a wide range of autonomic responses that ensure their survival. They develop senses to survey their surroundings as they grow. Researchers can expose infants to new stimuli and observe their reactions to determine cognitive growth. In order to distinguish the difference between new and old stimuli, an infant must remember the old stimuli. Thus, a child’s failure to recognize the old stimulus would indicate cognitive delay and developmental problems. 2b. An alternative technique to test cognitive capacity in infants would be using different sounds and how infants recognize them. If the infant cannot identify the familiar sound, it would indicate cognitive delay. 2c. The advantage of using habituation technique is that it allows researchers to conduct experiments with many different stimuli. Habituation is easier to identify and different forms of stimuli such as colors and objects can be used to test cognitive development.

Figure 1
An experiment was performed to examine the age at which infants recognize certain outcomes as impossible. Five-month-old infants were tested in the procedure depicted in Figure 1.3a. In step 1, two dolls were placed in a case. In step 2 a screen covered the dolls. Step 3, depicts an empty hand entering the case and step 4 shows the hand removing one of the dolls. In step 5, two different outcomes were present to infants: possible outcome revealing one doll and the impossible outcome revealing two dolls. 3b. This experiment involves two conditions, possible and impossible outcomes. The impossible outcome is most appropriately called the experimental condition because it present the child with a mystery and math problem. Infants are capable of solving mathematical problems and knowing possible outcomes. Therefore, manipulating the outcome can be used to detect cognitive development. The same infants would be tested in each condition to measure the variability in starting time. A separate control group is necessary in order to compare the experimental results with a standard. The infants in control group would be shown the possible outcome. 3c. The habituation technique is used in this experiment to see the infant’s responsiveness towards the possible and impossible outcomes. The independent variable is the two conditions and the dependent variable is the amount of time infants stared at the outcomes.

Figure 2 contains results from the experiment. The results bear strongly on the experimental hypothesis. 4a. The experimental hypothesis, based on Piaget’s theory, states that children who lack object permanence will not improve their response or dishabituate when the objects disappear from their view. The alternative hypothesis is that the sensorimotor competencies occur before 8 months, thus infants can easily dishabituate to unexpected stimuli or disappearing objects. 4b. An outcome of the current experiment that would support the experimental hypothesis is that the infants would not dishabituate and stare the same amount of time at both possible and impossible outcomes. This is because they lack object permanence and could not differentiate between the correct and incorrect outcome. An outcome that would support the alternative hypothesis is that the infants would stare longer and dishabituate to the impossible outcome. This outcome supports the alternative hypothesis because it demonstrates that infants have sensorimotor competencies and dishabituated toward the impossible outcome.


4c. In the experiment, the infants stared longer at the at the impossible outcome compared to the possible outcome. They showed an understanding of mathematical computation and were unable to accept the wrong results. Thus, demonstrating that they do not lack object permanence. The impossible outcome showed the greatest dishabituation in percentage term. In order to determine whether the difference between conditions were statistically significant, I would need: the sample size, standard deviation, variance and average. A t-test can be performed using the following information to see if the results is due to chance or statistically significant.4d. The results of this experiment were consistent with the alternative hypothesis because it demonstrated that cognitive development occurs before 8 months and infants can easily dishabituate to disappearing objects. Thus, they do not lack object permanence.

Figure 3

The results of the experiment were valuable in addressing the hypothesis under study. However, future investigations may need to adopt techniques that improve upon those used here. 5a. In figure 2, the infants were presented with 1 second delay between step 4 and 5 while in figure 3 they had 10 second between the transition of dolls. The data from figure 2 indicate that the infants stared longer at impossible outcome. This might be due to that they had shorter attention span and were able to remember seeing dolls being taken from the case. when the transition time was increased to 10 seconds, they could not remember the removal of doll because their brains have not fully developed yet. This is why the infants stared nearly equal amount of time at possible and impossible outcome. The conclusion made in 4d does not fit with this result. Both results can be true if the same infants were used in both experiments and they had short or developing memory.5b. The results in figure 2 might fit the Piagetian hypothesis because it shows that infants lack object permanence and habituate easily to certain stimuli. However, Piaget’s theory could not prove the results in figure 2, which shows infants can dishabituate to stimuli. 5c. According to the follow-up experiment of McCrink and Wynn, the infants were responding to greater or smaller mass of object rather than change in number of objects. They reached the conclusion that infants have an object tracking system that helps in locating the position or movement of objects. The idea of memory mismatch is similar to the object tracking system because infants compare the object in memory and the object present rather than mathematically calculating it.