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Object Permanence

Jean Piaget’s idea that children of about eight or nine months of age develop awareness/the idea that objects continue to exist even when one cannot see them. Before this stage, as far as the infant is concerned, items that are not within eyesight range do not exist.

Piaget developed this theory by conducting very simple tests with infants involving blankets and toys. If the child was old enough to know about object permenance than when he covered the toy with a blanket, they would still try to reach for it. If the child was not at that stage, they would move on.

Example: Young babies who have not yet developed a sense of object permanence often seem particularly delighted by “peek-a-boo” or other games involving a “vanishing person” or object.

Stages of Object Permanence

Piaget suggested that there were six stages that occur during a child’s sensorimotor stage of development.

Birth to 1 Month: Reflexes

During an infant’s earliest stage of development, they learn to experience the world through their reflexes. Reflexes are how they interact and begin their understanding of their environment. Reflexive responses include rooting, sucking, and startling. These reflexes are how the infant interacts with his or her environment.

1 to 4 Months: Development of New Schemas

Piaget then theorized that through circular reactions, infants learn to develop what he called “schemas” — patterns of connecting the dots to understand how the world actually works. For instance, a baby might accidentally suck on her thumb and realize that it’s enjoyable. She will then repeat the action because he finds it pleasurable.

4 to 8 Months: Intentional Actions

During this stage, infants begin paying much more attention to their environment. They will begin to independently perform actions in order to create a certain response. Piaget referred to these as secondary circular reactions.

8 to 12 Months: Greater Exploration

Growing from intentional actions, the infant learns to explore more and more of their environment. For instance, an infant may shake a toy in order to produce sounds. The baby’s responses to their environment become more cohesive and coordinated.

12 to 18 Months: Trial-and-Error

What Piaget referred to as tertiary circular reactions appear during the fifth stage. These involve trial-and-error and infants might start performing actions to gain attention from others.

18 to 24 Months: Object Permanence Emerges

Piaget believed that representational thought begins to emerge between 18 and 24 months. At this point, children become able to form mental representations of objects. Because they can symbolically imagine things that cannot be seen, they are now able to understand object permanence.


Object Permanence
APA Reference
Fournier, G. (2018). Object Permanence. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from