Infants' Forgetting of Correlated Attributes and Object Recognition


  • This research was supported by grant nos. MH32307 and MH00902 from the National Institute of Mental Health to CRC. Portions of these data were presented at the meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, New Orleans, LA, March 1993. Ramesh S. Bhatt is now at the Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0044.

Address correspondence to Carolyn Rovee-Collier, Department of Psychology, Busch Campus, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08903.


Infants as young as 3 months of age can encode the relations among object features. Because object recognition depends critically upon a match between perceived feature configurations and representations of the object in long-term memory, the present experiments focused on infants' long-term memory for feature correlations. In 3 experiments with 72 3-month-olds, we documented the forgetting functions of different feature correlations, examined their relation to infants' memory for individual features, and replicated the findings with different stimuli. Infants were trained to activate a mobile composed of two kinds of blocks that differed in color, the figures displayed on them, and the figures' colors and were tested after different delays with recombinations of either the block colors, the figures, or the figure colors. Infants remembered some of the original feature combinations for up to 3 days but forgot all of them after 4 days. Even after 4 days, however, infants remembered the individual features that had entered into the original combinations. These results demonstrate that very young infants not only encode the relations among object features but also remember them for several days. Moreover, there is a dissociation in memory between features and feature relations: Feature relations are forgotten sooner than the individual features that comprise those relations.