You may have heard of this term being described as ‘knowing that an object exists even when it’s out of sight’. This is technically correct, but why does it even matter? Understanding object permanence is a huge cognitive milestone in your baby’s development because it represents a whole new understanding of how the world works.
But first, here’s our definition of ‘object permanence’
Object permanence is the understanding that an object continues to exist even when it can’t be immediately experienced. For example, if you put an apple in your bag, you may not necessarily be able to feel, see, hear, taste, or smell the apple. However, once you get hungry, you’ll remember that it’s there and take it out for a snack. Babies learn this concept at around 6 months of age.
How is ‘object permanence’ learned?
Piaget supposed that infants needed to be able to form ‘mental representations’ of the object to understand object permanence. That is, they have to be able to picture the object in their mind while it’s out of sight. Babies pick this up very quickly through games like peek-a-boo or certain toys.
The big picture
As your baby’s cognition improves, they will be more able to create mental representations of things and manipulate these things in their minds. Let’s try a simple task- read the prompt below and see what pops into your mind.
Think about the moment you first met your baby. Where were you? Who was there with you? How did you feel? Close your eyes.
You may have had an instant memory of a place. You probably saw it clearly if you closed your eyes. The environment, people, and emotions you saw and felt are all mental representations. Being able mentally represent information plays a huge role in memory, emotions, processing information, and more, and object permanence is just one piece of the puzzle.