Infant Perception Versus Infant Cognition

Before discussing the findings in the area of infant perception and cognition, the first step should be at least to make some crude attempt to define what we mean by infant perception and cognition. The reader may have noticed our tendency so far to treat infant perception and cognition as a single domain rather than as two distinct entities. Even that issue is unclear and debatable. Some, such as Mandler (1992, 2000b), overtly assume that infant perception and cognition are two distinct domains with little communication between them. Under this view, infant perception may be seen as including lower-level, automatic processes such as noticing the features of objects and responding to those features. Infant cognition, on the other hand, may be seen as involving higher-level, conceptual processes such as making inferences about the functions or meanings of objects. Others, such as Quinn and Eimas (2000), argue that both are aspects of a single domain and that they differ more in degree than in kind.

Our opinion falls closer to Quinn and Eimas's than to Mandler's. We also see the difference between perception and cognition to be more a matter of degree than of kind. Whether one is dealing with perceiving size constancy— perceiving the actual size of an object seen at different distances—or understanding the meaning of a complex causal event in which one object pushes another object across a table, it is the nature of the underlying relationship that must be perceived or understood. In size constancy, the underlying relationship is the size of one object relative to the object's distance or to the size of other objects; in the causal event, it is the movement of one object in space and time relative to the movement of the second object. Some relationships may be perceived automatically and effortlessly; others require a more active comparison. But from an information-processing perspective, they all can be understood in terms of sets of relationships. Our task is to describe the nature of these relationships and how they contribute to some overall organization or information-processing hierarchy.

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