Object Permanence: The 6 Stages in Infant Growth and Development

My daughter, Yna
My daughter, Yna | Source

Out of sight, out of mind

Simply put, this is the idea that when an object is out of sight, the person realizes that it still exists. As logical as it may seem, infants do not exhibit this skill early on in life. The field of development psychology in explores object permanence along with other social and mental development milestones of infants development.

According to studies, there are 6 stages involved in the development of object permanence. Here's a quick discussion of each:

1. Primary Circular Reactions

Developmental milestone from 1-4 months

At this stage, infants follow objects as they move. Moreover, infants remain looking at the location where the object was “discovered’. Although this behavior lasts only for a few seconds, it clearly shows that at this stage, infants respond to objects and familiar images. During this stage, the attention of the baby becomes more intentional rather than merely reflexive.

2. Reflex Scheme

Developmental milestone from 0-1 month

At this stage, the neonatal starts to learn about his/her body. Although at this time, their vision is still blurred, infants tend to do visual tracking. They detect movements, contrasts in color and other cues. But what is important at this stage is that they are beginning to be exposed to visual stimuli. This is crucial to infant growth and development. However, at this stage, they still do not have object permanence. It is safe to assume that at this stage infants still do not have an idea of the existence of objects. Moreover, the concept that objects may “disappear” is not yet developed.

3. Secondary Circular Reactions

Developmental milestone from 4-8 months

One of the highlights of this stage is when the child reaches for an object that is partially hidden. This shows the baby’s familiarity with the object. Moreover, it illustrates that the infant recognizes the parts of a whole. However, if the object is completely hidden, the baby does not make any effort to look for it. Although there is coordination between visual cues and comprehension of objects, the infant still lacks object permanence.

"A not B Error" test

4. Coordination of the Secondary Reactions

Developmental milestone from 8-12 months

At this stage, the infant retrieves hidden objects. Although this seems trivial, it exhibits a huge leap in the baby’s cognitive development. During this phase, rudimentary object permanence emerges. In addition, infants exhibiting this stage are more goal-oriented. This means their desire to grasp and look for objects is more intentional. However, a baby will not look for an object hidden at a different location. This means when you hide the same object in two different places, the baby will simply search one – usually the place where he finds the object. This is called the “A not B error”.

5. Tertiary Circular Reaction

Developmental milestone from 12-18 months

During this stage, a baby can find hidden objects. However, this skill is limited by the infant’s visual field. To put this in a different way, the baby simply looks for hidden objects within his/her visual field. Don't be disappointed since this is an important developmental milestone in the infant's life. At this the baby begins to construct a very concrete view of his/her world. This is a significant step in the child's awareness and interaction.

Object Permanence Test

6. New Means through Mental Combination

Developmental milestone from 18-24 months

During this stage, the baby has understanding of object permanence. Moreover, the child’s cognitive processes are more complex than what people may see. For one, the child no longer falls for the A not B error. Moreover, the baby develops mental images and uses it to solve problems – in this case finding hidden objects.

Object permanence is just one of many cognitive development processes that a baby will develop. Providing learning experiences that will scaffold a baby’s development will be beneficial and of course a lot of fun for both the parent and the baby.

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Comments 10 comments

thumbi7 profile image

thumbi7 4 years ago from India

This is a very informative hub on the developmental psychology of infants.

There is a lot to understand about an infant's world!!

Thanks for SHARING


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hello Thumbi7. We do have a lot of things to learn about infant development. The more we learn the more we can help them develop their full potential.


anusujith profile image

anusujith 4 years ago from Nilambur, Kerala, India

Oh I missed this for my lifetime... Thank you very much for sharing this... Pretty useful....


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi there anusujith,

Object permanence is every important in the development of a child. It can affect anything from cognitive development to emotional development. I hope this helps you with your new baby.


Ayenney profile image

Ayenney 4 years ago from Canada

Very informative hub! Moms like me would definitely dig this. Thumbs up!


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hello Ayenney,

It's always a good idea to provide learning experiences to infants. My wife and I make sure that every interaction with our duaghter supports her development cognitively, emotionally or physically. I do hope you get to use the information here.


Kai0224liu profile image

Kai0224liu 4 years ago from TX

Omg she is so cute.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

hank you Kai0224liu, That's my daughter Yna. I took the photo when she's just a few days old. Babies grow so quickly.


tinkerbelle78 profile image

tinkerbelle78 4 years ago

I've recently begun to learn about object permanence with regard to my 19 month old son. I find psychology to be absolutely amazing! Thank you for taking the time to write this hub!


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hello tinkerbelle78,

Psychology is definitely amazing. When we learn how to apply it in our daily lives it becomes even more useful.

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