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Keywords:

  • number;
  • visual exploration;
  • eye tracking

Abstract

Previous research has demonstrated infants' capacity to discriminate between situations in which all the objects successively hidden behind a screen are present, or not, after the removal of the screen. Two types of interpretation have been proposed: counting capacity or object memorization capacity. In the usual paradigm, the missing object in the impossible event is usually the last object which is placed behind the screen. Following this, a third interpretation can be offered: infants' exploration is first directed to this object's location, and its presence or absence is noticed. Two experiments using Wynn's (Nature 1992; 358:749) paradigm were performed to test the third hypothesis. The first experiment involved four objects (teddy bears) placed in four squares. Infants looked longer at the impossible event (3 objects, the last one missing) than at the possible event (4 objects) when the impossible event was presented first. No difference in looking duration was observed for the opposite order. In the second experiment, the four objects were disposed in a line and an eye-tracking system was used. No difference in the number of looks was observed between the impossible event (3 objects, the second one missing) and the possible event (4 objects). Therefore, it appears that at least in this complex situation (4 objects used instead of 2 usually), the location of the missing object is a key factor for event discrimination. Eye-tracking also indicated in the second experiment that infants looked less at the second location during an impossible event (object missing) than during the possible event (object present), indicating that the impossibility of the event was not a determining factor for looking durations. Altogether, the data indicate the potential usefulness of eye-tracking analysis in this type of situation. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.