A memory span of one? Object identification in 6.5-month-old infants

Zsuzsa Káldy, Alan M. Leslie

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93 Scopus citations


Infants' abilities to identify objects based on their perceptual features develop gradually during the first year and possibly beyond. Earlier we reported [Káldy, Z., & Leslie, A. M. (2003). Identification of objects in 9-month-old infants: Integrating 'what' and 'where' information. Developmental Science, 6, 360-373] that infants at 9 months of age are able to use shape information to identify two objects and follow their spatiotemporal trajectories behind occlusion. On the other hand, another recent study suggests that infants at 4-5 months of age cannot identify objects by features and bind them to locations [Mareschal, D., & Johnson, M. H. (2003). The "what" and "where" of object representations in infancy. Cognition, 88, 259-276]. In the current study, we investigated the developmental steps between these two benchmark ages by testing 6.5-month-old infants. Experiment 1 and 2 adapted the paradigm used in our previous studies with 9-month-olds that involves two objects hidden sequentially behind separate occluders. This technique allows us to address object identification and to examine whether only one or both object identities are being tracked. Results of experiment 1 showed that 6.5-month-old infants could identify at least one of two objects based on shape and experiment 2 found that this ability holds for only one, the last object hidden. We propose that at this age, infants' working memory capacity is limited to one occluded object if there is a second intervening hiding. If their attention is distracted by an intervening object during the memory maintenance period, the memory of the first object identity appears to be lost. Results of experiment 3 supported this hypothesis with a simpler one-screen setup. Finally, results of experiment 4 show that temporal decay of the memory trace (without an intervening hiding) by itself cannot explain the observed pattern of results. Taken together, our findings suggest that at six months of age infants can store but a single object representation with bound shape information, most likely in the ventral stream. The memory span of one may be due to immaturity of the neural structures underlying working memory such that intervening items overwrite the existing storage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-177
Number of pages25
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • Infant
  • Object identification
  • Serial task
  • Shape
  • Working memory


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