Continuity in representation and computation:
Object representations in human adults and infants
Lisa Feigenson, Johns Hopkins University
In science, we understand the world as consisting of individuals (e.g. planets, people, electrons) and interactions between these individuals (e.g. gravity, sex, repulsion). Within cognitive psychology, many researchers have been interested in how the mind is able to perceive individual objects (e.g. a cup and a table) and to combine information about them (e.g. the cup is supported by the table). What are the foundations of our adult ability to think about individual objects and the relations between them? I will review evidence from multiple methodologies showing that adults and infants have access to a limited number of mental tokens which can serve as symbols for objects and which can store property information about those objects in short term memory (Feigenson, Carey, & Hauser, 2002; Luck & Vogel, 1997). Adults and infants can perform a variety of computations over these object tokens, including summing property information across multiple objects to represent the array’s total continuous extent (Ariely, 2001; Feigenson, Carey, & Spelke, 2002), representing the properties of individual objects in the array (Luck & Vogel, 1997; Ross-Sheehy, Oakes, & Luck, 2003), and comparing the discrete number of objects in different arrays (Feigenson, 2005; Feigenson & Carey, 2003). Furthermore, while adults and infants are limited to storing approximately 3 object representations at a time, they are also able to “chunk” representations of individual objects into hierarchically organized sets (Ericsson, Chase, & Faloon, 1980; Feigenson & Halberda, 2004). Thus, even very early on in development, human infants are equipped with concepts for representing objects in their environment and for computing over these representations. These representations and computations are utilized throughout the course of development (Feigenson, Dehaene, & Spelke, 2004).
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