Baby's Brain in Week 28
Is your baby dropping Cheerios from his high chair to the floor lately? (And tell the truth: Is it driving you crazy?) If so, realize he's only doing this because he's fascinated with the fact that the Cheerios continue to exist as they drop to the floor. When he was younger, your child would not have watched the cereal plummet at all; back then, it was as if the food had fallen off the edge of the earth.
Between six and eight months, babies are in the midst of learning that objects continue to exist when out of sight. This concept, called "object permanence," takes hold in babies' minds gradually, in documented steps. It was first researched by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget in 1954 and then frequently replicated by later researchers.
What the Research Shows
The first sign of object permanence comes at about two months of age. In one study, researchers showed two-month-olds a toy, quickly put up a solid screen that shielded the toy from their view, then removed the toy and then the screen. Upon seeing no toy, the babies showed expressions of surprise. But despite being concerned momentarily, the two-month-olds would not search for the toy.
Older babies are a different story. Researchers and observant parents note that between six and eight months, babies will look over the edge of a crib for a toy as they watch it drop to the floor. A developmental shift has taken place: Babies now know that the object isn't simply falling into an abyss and they want to follow it.
When researchers completely covered the toys of six- to eight-month-old babies, however, the infants did stop looking for them. There was nowhere for the babies to follow the toys to—covered up, they were just "gone." To these children, it was as if the toys had magically disappeared. Likewise, if during mealtime you catch two Cheerios before they fall to the floor, and then remove them from your baby's sight, there's nothing for your child's eyes to follow. He'll think nothing more of it and won't look any longer for the fallen Cheerios.
This means that once your baby begins to scoot or crawl, you shouldn't be surprised when she follows you as you move from room to room. By so doing, your little shadow is confirming that even you continue to exist when out of sight!