Accurate representation of a changing environment requires individuation-the ability to determine how many numerically distinct objects are present in a scene. Much research has characterized early individuation abilities by identifying which object features infants can use to individuate throughout development. However, despite the fact that without memory featural individuation would be impossible, little is known about how memory constrains object individuation. Here, we investigated infants' ability to individuate multiple objects at once and asked whether individuation performance changes as a function of memory load. In three experiments, 18-month-old infants saw one, two, or three objects hidden and always saw the correct number of objects retrieved. On some trials, one or more of these objects surreptitiously switched identity prior to retrieval. We asked whether infants would use this identity mismatch to individuate and, hence, continue searching for the missing object(s). We found that infants were less likely to individuate objects as memory load grew, but that infants individuated more successfully when the featural contrast between the hidden and retrieved objects increased. These results suggest that remembering more objects may result in a loss of representational precision, thereby decreasing the likelihood of successful individuation. We close by discussing possible links between our results and findings from adult working memory.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology