Object Permanence

Putting the jigsaw together

One of the most mesmerizing things about becoming a parent is to watch an infant piece life together. It is mind blowing to watch their senses, motor skills, and emotions develop and take shape.

To follow the development of a couple of cells to a little questioning and chattering toddler is a mystery that is a source of endless fascination for not only parents but also developmental psychologists.

Blowing Raspberries
It is easy to hear and see when an infant is unhappy and distressed.  Often a million messages are read into their first little smile. The first bubble when they are blowing raspberries is easy to see as a sign of joy.

But what is a baby thinking? What is going on behind those piercing innocent eyes?

What happens when things disappear?

The developmental child psychologist, Jean Piaget, conducted some studies into infants and their knowledge and he suggested that children younger than 8 months had no sense of the fact that people and things exist when you cannot see them – object permanence.

Piaget believed that babies spent the first year discovering that objects exits independently of their own self.


  • Object permanence has often been described as a developmental milestone.
  • Most babies reach this milestone when they are between eight or nine months old.
  • According to this theory, before children have reached this milestone they do not realise that an object exists when it disappear before their eyes.

A strange thought

A person who disappear out of the room, – poof – ceases to exist. A baby may believe that a toy that is dropped from the chair is gone forever. And for a grown-up this may appear strange and impossible to imagine.



  • Parents have their own way of exploring the development of object permanence with young babies.
  • Of course, the exploring is done in a very mischievous and playful manner.
  • A three-month old infant are often pleasantly surprised when their parent plays play peek-a-boo.
  • Each time you hide your face with your hands and then suddenly reappears may suggest that the baby thinks that the face has magically disappeared and come back.
  • A couple of months later a baby may hide under a blanket and it appears that they may believe that their parents cannot find them since they cannot seethe parent.
  • Playing peek-a-boo helps a child to understand that you are there even when they cannot see you.


This video from theYou Tube shows a little game examining Object Permanence.


Under the blanket

Hiding a toy under a blanket and then showing it to our baby is another fun little game. After playing this several times, a baby will try to lift the blanket to check herself.

I know you are there even if I cannot see you

Infants can distinguish between their mother’s milk and other breast-milk. It appears that even if they get confused when things are only visually perceived. When something can be heard, touched and smelled they can differentiate between objects and persons. A young baby may feel comforted by the touch and smell of their mom sleeping nearby, even if they cannot see her.

New ideas

But the mystery with object permanence, which refers to the ability to utilise and retain visual images, has not been solved.


  • Some studies suggest that a six and half month’s old babies look down toward the floor when a toy is dropped.
  • Studies recording eye movements have found that babies start to show signs of anticipating and looks at the spot where an object re-emergence.
  • This ability appears to be developing during the babies first year.
  • At around five months, the babies’ anticipation became more consistent.

So it appears that young babies may develop object permanence earlier than, for example, Piaget thought.


Why not examine and see for yourself. When does your baby start to follow with her eyes toys that fall to the floor? 

Photo:Baby Play With Doll by photostock

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