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Psychological Theories on A-not B Error - Dictionary of Arguments

Upton I 55
A-not B Error/Psychological theories/Upton: according to Piaget the infant is assumed to reason that ‘if I wish to find the toy again I must do what I did before’.
BaillargeonVsPiaget: This evidence is clearly incompatible with the findings of researchers such as Baillargeon (2002)(1), which suggest that the understanding that objects continue to exist even when not visible develops in the first few months of life.
Other authors: Why would children aged eight to nine months, who understand that objects still exist when hidden, continue to search for an object in the wrong place when they have watched that object being hidden in a specific location?
A number of explanations have been put forward for this intriguing behaviour, including the fragility of infant memory (Harris, 1989)(2), habit perseveration (Diamond, 1985)(3), and changes in neurological functioning (Munakata, 1998)(4).
However, none of these has been found to explain the A-not-B error adequately. According to Smith et al. (1999)(5), this is because the search for a single causal factor is mistaken. Arguing from a dynamic systems perspective, they assert that this behaviour can only be explained by considering multiple causes. The ability to search for the toy under the correct cloth is the result of a number of skills coming together at once.
These different skills, such as knowledge of the task, perceptual and motor abilities, unfold over time at different rates. According to Smith et al. (1999)(5), it is the real-time integration of all these skills that will allow an infant to search in the right place, not the development of a single mental structure such as ‘understanding of object permanence’. >Object permanence/Developmental psychology, >Knowledge/Developmental Psychology.



1. Baillargeon, R. (2002) The acquisition of physical knowledge in infancy: a summary in eight lessons, in Goswami, U (ed.) Handbook of Child Cognitive Development. Oxford: Blackwell.
2. Harris, P.L. (1989) Object permanence in infancy, in Slater, A. and Bremner, J.G. (eds) Infant Development: Recent advances. Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum.
3. Diamond, A.D. (1985) Development of the ability to use recall to guide action as indicated by infants’ performance on AB. Child Development, 56: 868–83.
4. Munakata, Y .(1998) Infant perseveration and implications for object permanence theories: a PDP model of the AB task. Developmental Science, 1(2): 161–84.
5. Smith, L.B., Thelen, .E, Titzer, R. and McLin, D. (1999) Knowing in the context of acting: the task dynamics of the A-not-B error. Psychological Review, 106(2): 235–60. Available online at www.indiana.edu/~cogdev/labwork/SmithThelen1999.pdf (accessed 12 March 2011).


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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