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New Thinking on Infant Development

Object Permanence

Old thinking: The awareness that something exists even when it's out of sight shows up at about 8 months.

New thinking: Babies can comprehend object permanence much earlier.

Psychologists now think that the understanding of object permanence may begin as early as 3 months. When researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand examined where babies looked for a hidden toy, they found that most of the little smarties looked in the right place a few seconds after the object was hidden. The catch is that the memory lasts only about eight seconds  -- but this may be the first sign of a skill that will grow as the months pass. "Just because infants don't reach for hidden objects they seem to desire doesn't mean they have no understanding that the object is still present," explains head researcher Ted Ruffman, Ph.D.

What it means for you: Although your baby doesn't yet communicate using words and actions, he may still be aware of his surroundings and have opinions. Respect his intelligence: If you're going to take away a toy because it's time to leave for daycare, give him advance notice, then let him see what you're doing. You can say, "We have to put the doggie away now because it's time to go. But I'm going to keep it here so it's waiting for you when you come home." He may not understand the words  -- then again, he just may  -- but your actions convey to him that you're paying attention to his feelings.

Old thinking: Young babies are only able to recognize the voices of close family members.

New thinking: At 3 months, your baby can start to match a wide range of voices with faces.

If Uncle Paul visits for a short time, your child can learn that the voice she hears in the kitchen is his. Researchers at Exeter University in England taught 3-month-olds to pair voices with faces and found that after only 90 seconds of exposure, the babies knew when the voice they heard did not match the face they'd learned to associate with it.

What it means for you: When Uncle Paul comes over for a visit, have him speak to your baby in his normal voice and then in a funny voice. Not only will your child get endless enjoyment out of the game, but you'll also reinforce her ability to recognize his voice.