Learning About Objects in Infancy (Hardback) book cover

Learning About Objects in Infancy

By Amy Work Needham

© 2016 – Routledge

132 pages

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pub: 2016-03-25
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About the Book

How do young infants experience the world around them? How similar or different are infants’ experiences from adults’ experiences of similar situations? How do infants progress from relatively sparse knowledge and expectations early in life to much more elaborate knowledge and expectations just several months later? We know that much of infants’ learning before four to five months of age is visually-based. As they develop the ability to reach for objects independently, they can explore objects that are of particular interest to them—a new skill that must be important for their learning. Through this transition to independent reaching and exploration, infants go a long way toward forming their own understandings of the objects around them. Towards the end of the first year of life, infants begin manipulating one object relative to another and this skill sets the stage for them to begin using objects instrumentally—using one object to create changes in other objects. This new ability opens up many opportunities for infants to learn about using tools.

In this volume, Amy Work Needham provides an extensive overview of her research on infant learning, with a particular focus on how infants learn about objects. She begins with an explanation of how basic aspects of how infants’ visual exploration of objects allows them to create new knowledge about objects and object categories. She continues with a description of infants’ visual and manual learning about hand-held tools and how these tools can be used to achieve goals. Throughout, she focuses on active learning and development, which results in infants making important contributions to their own learning about objects. She concludes by synthesizing the findings discussed, pulls out recurring themes across studies, and brings together fundamental principles of how infants learn about objects.


"This book is a wonderful collection of both detailed experimental findings and carefully constructed inferences about the mechanisms that enable infants to acquire knowledge about objects. The focus is on visual cues that define what we mean by "an object" and how infants utilize their emerging motor skills to explore and learn about those cues. Needham's seminal studies that gave infants accelerated access to object retrieval by using "sticky mittens" is a highlight of her extensive program of research. The interplay between this proximal experience of reaching-to-grasp and more distal observations of objects manipulated by others culminates in the use of objects as tools. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the fascinating bidirectional nature of perception and action during human development." – Richard Aslin, William R. Kenan Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester

"From early sensory processing to emerging motor control, Needham provides us with a comprehensive and contemporary discussion of object processing in infancy, with an emphasis on how early sensorimotor activity paves the way for complex knowledge acquisition, self-efficacy, and intentionality. This engaging work is sure to appear as part of undergraduate and graduate curricula in many psychology departments. An excellent and informative read!" – Karin H. James, Associate Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University

"I have been waiting for a book like this. The research literatures on early object recognition, object categorization, reaching, object manipulation, and tool use have remained largely separate, but in this beautifully written book, Needham seamlessly integrates findings across these different areas to show how infants’ cognitive and motor abilities with objects are the stepping stones of human technology." – Jeffrey J. Lockman, Professor of Psychology, Tulane University

"This fascinating book provides rarely document detail about infants' encoutners with objects. Often taken for granted as natural development and of little consequence, this book takes us on a journey of discovery about the infant as a thinker and a theoriser. Each chapter describes in fine detail experimental studies that expose the thinking processes that assist infants to understand the world around them. Throughout each chapter we begin to see how infants make sense of what to adults is the unquestioned phenomenon of the everday… Importantly this book offers a very different perspective on the life and experience of infants than that which is often presented in the early childhood education and care literature. Moving beyond a focus on infants' social and emotional states, this book is a champion for the thinking and theorising infant… I promise--once reading this book one will never again assume the act of feeding oneself with a spoon an easy feat." -Sandra Cheeseman, Macquarie University, Australia, The First Years

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Learning About How Object Attributes predict the Locations of Object Boundaries 3. Representing Objects and Forming Object Categories 4. Early Visual-Motor Connections 5. Learning to Reach for Objects 6. Developing Effective Reaching for Objects 7. Learning to Use Tools 8. Conclusions and Emergent Themes

About the Author

Amy Work Needham is Professor in the Department of Psychology and Human Development in Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. For more than 20 years, she has studied the contributions of perception and action to early learning.

About the Series

Essays in Developmental Psychology

Essays in Developmental Psychology is designed to meet the need for rapid publication of brief volumes in developmental psychology.

The series defines developmental psychology in its broadest terms and covers such topics as social development, cognitive development, developmental neuropsychology and neuroscience, language development, learning difficulties, developmental psychopathology and applied issues.

Each volume in the series makes a conceptual contribution to the topic by reviewing and synthesizing the existing research literature, by advancing theory in the area, or by some combination of these missions.

Authors in this series provide an overview of their own highly successful research program, but they also include an assessment of current knowledge and identification of possible future trends in research.

Each book is a self-contained unit supplying the advanced reader with a coherent review of important research as well as its context, theoretical grounding and implications.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Developmental / General