The number of individual items that can be maintained in working memory is limited. One solution to this problem is to store representations of ensembles that contain summary information about large numbers of items (e.g., the approximate number or cumulative area of a group of many items). Here we explored the developmental origins of ensemble representations by asking whether infants represent ensembles and, if so, how many at one time. We habituated 9-month-old infants to arrays containing 2, 3, or 4 spatially intermixed colored subsets of dots, then asked whether they detected a numerical change to one of the subsets or to the superset of all dots. Experiment Series 1 showed that infants detected a numerical change to 1 of the subsets when the array contained 2 subsets but not 3 or 4 subsets. Experiment Series 2 showed that infants detected a change to the superset of all dots no matter how many subsets were presented. Experiment 3 showed that infants represented both the approximate number and the cumulative surface area of these ensembles. Our results suggest that infants, like adults (Halberda, Sires, & Feigenson, 2006), can store quantitative information about 2 subsets plus the superset: a total of 3 ensembles. This converges with the known limit on the number of individual objects infants and adults can store and suggests that, throughout development, an ensemble functions much like an individual object for working memory.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental Neuroscience