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How has the use of new research methods contributed to a greater understanding of the development of infants perceptual abilities during the first 18 months of life?

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Introduction

How has the use of new research methods contributed to a greater understanding of the development of infants' perceptual abilities during the first 18 months of life? Perception is the experience of our environment gathered via our sensory organs. Effective navigation of these experiences requires the ability, not only to recognise, but also to act upon sensory stimuli, as it is through this process that we come to interpret the nature of our environment. As a basis for the acquisition of knowledge, understanding what and how we perceive can provide insight into developmental progress and a comprehensive understanding of human limitations and developmental milestones. Influencing scientific research are the theoretical perspectives of nativism and empiricism. Do we learn to perceive through direct experience with our surroundings as an empiricist believes, or is the nativist position that we have innate perceptual capabilities correct? Increasingly, the amassed evidence suggests that neither position is entirely accurate in of itself and a more authentic view posits that infants are born with some rudimentary knowledge which experience then refines and enhances. This essay aims to evaluate a small contribution of the research available, primarily visual and auditory studies. Individually, the separate perceptive senses of vision and hearing have been extensively studied, however in reality total perception is rarely the product of one sensory organ in isolation. ...read more.

Middle

Although the question of innateness is asked, the evidence cannot show this as subjects were already six months old. By this age, a baby's experience of heights from being carried would in all probability be quite pronounced and depth perception at this point could very well be learnt. Gibson noted that depth perception is limited by loco motor function as some less experienced crawlers backed over the edge in their attempt to reach their mothers and similar studies by Campos et al. (1992) found that new crawlers were happy to cross the cliff whereas experienced crawlers almost always would not. This suggests that there is a learning process that takes place. As crawling ability improves a more accurate understanding of the visual cues can be processed. Vital for language comprehension and therefore communication, auditory ability in infants has also been extensively studied but as orientation of the ears towards the stimulus is not essential for hearing, observation of the sensory organ alone cannot provide any evidence of ability. Infants do however turn their heads towards sound and this skill is demonstrated soon after birth. This behavioural response was used by Fernald (1985) on infants of 4 months old who were exposed to recordings of normal voices versus recordings of 'motherese'. Motherese is the definition given to the type of speech adults typically use when communicating with babies. ...read more.

Conclusion

The results concluded that infants can learn sight-sound pairings and that they expect them to remain co-located. In a later study by Slater et al., (1999) non contingent and contingent experimental situations were created where the auditory stimulus was presented regardless of visual attention or contingent on subject visual interest. The results showed that babies learned the sight - sound pairings in the contingent setting and it is the presence of contingent information that governs learning of arbitrary audio-visual combinations. These types of studies that examine perception from a more holistic approach bring up some interesting questions. If baby's perceptual learning is improved in a cross-modal situation, what other perceptive senses are linked and is there anything more to learn from individual sense studies alone? That research has aided the understanding of perceptual development is evident. However limited, experiments into individual sensory areas have changed opinion on the perceptive functionality of an infant at birth and proved a capacity greater than some theorists might have earlier believed. Importantly, it would appear that the functioning is improved greatly if the studies utilise stimuli that are similar to an everyday experience for an infant. To the extent that these abilities are innate or learnt is not absolute from the studies investigated here but the evidence points towards the conclusion that some areas of perception are learnt and some innate, with the innate preparedness being easier to deduce from ecologically valid experiments with socially familiar stimuli. ...read more.

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