Can infants use video to update mental representations of absent objects?

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Before their second birthday, infants can update their knowledge based on what someone tells them, but can they do so based on what a video shows them? The current study explored whether infants can update their representation of an absent object’s properties after seeing a video of something happening to it, following seminal work showing that they can update their representation after being told about something happening to it (Ganea et al., 2007). It thus adapted an existing paradigm for testing infants’ understanding of references to absent objects (using language) to investigate a different symbolic medium (video). Twenty-two-month-olds first played with a toy and later saw on video that the toy underwent a change in state while they were out of the room. Infants in the current study did not subsequently identify the toy based on this new information, whereas those in previous research did. Infants this age thus appear less likely to update their representation of an absent object’s properties using video than using language. This result is consistent with the possibility that infants may understand the representational function of symbolic objects later in development than they understand the representational function of language. It also aligns with evidence of the video deficit in which infants learn less effectively from video than from firsthand experience.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101623
Number of pages11
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Early online date11 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Aug 2021


  • mental representation
  • absent objects
  • updating
  • video deficit

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