object permanence

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A cognitive ability associated with working memory, first identified by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980). To test for this ability in a child, the child is shown two boxes, one of which contains a toy, then the boxes are closed and the child is deliberately distracted for a short while, and the child is asked to choose the box containing the toy. After several correct choices, the toy is transferred to the other box while the child watches, and further trials are carried out to determine whether the child is able to switch responses in accordance with the updated information. This ability, and the ability to perform delayed-response tasks, depends on maturity of the prefrontal cortex: in children under about 8 months this area is not fully developed, and they perform poorly on such tasks, behaving as though ‘out of sight is out of mind’, as do monkeys with surgical lesions in the prefrontal cortex.

Subjects: Psychology.

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