Lead


Lay summary
Contemporary research on core cognition and perception suggests that even the most elaborate adult cognition rests upon the very same core components that constitute human infants' basic cognition. This research project focuses on the question of how infants succeed to represent objects as distinct individuals persisting through space and time. Leading scientists propose that infants infer object persistence on the base of (probably innate) knowledge principles which provide criteria for "object-hood" and define what counts as an object in the first place. The present research project aims at delineating the particular role and relevance of one of the core principles on infants' ability to represent persisting objects: the principle of cohesion. In the sciences of physics and chemistry cohesion designates the coherence of atoms and molecules of a physical body or fluid. Obviously "perceived cohesion" (or "psychological cohesion") is not congruent with physical cohesion. In psychological terms, cohesion is exemplified by the presence of surface points and their spatiotemporal relations in the field of vision. To determine how perceived cohesiveness constitutes object identity, the present project plans to confront infants with situations where objects fail to behave in accord with cohesion: (a) with events of fission (where an object is split in one or multiple parts) and (b) with events of fusion (where two objects merge into a new superordinate structure). The contribution of perceived cohesion is investigated and compared for animate and inanimate bodies. What happens to infants' object representations under conditions of cohesion violation? Will the perceived violation of this core principle interrupt infants' representations of continuously existing objects? To investigate these questions a series of experimental studies are conducted including both perceptual and action measures. The questions addressed by the present research project tie in with the most central concerns of current research on cognitive development. Basic research on core cognition in human infants may help both to better understand how fundamental cognitive skills develop in human ontogeny as well as to get deeper insights in the architecture of adult cognition. Furthermore, it is of interdisciplinary relevance and may thus feed into various fields such as educational sciences, computer sciences, linguistics and philosophy.