Concluding Comments

The question of "how to build a baby" has been a matter of debate among theorists of early cognitive development since the writings of Piaget (1952; see for example, Carey, 1985; Elman, Bates, Johnson, Karmiloff-Smith, Parisi, & Plunkett, 1996; Karmiloff-Smith, 1992; Keil, 1989; Mandler, 1988, 1992; Quinn & Eimas, 1996b, 1997, 2000; Spelke, 1994). What mechanisms and knowledge does one build into the infant? What structure is available in the environment? The approach taken in the present chapter has been to document the representations for objects that can emerge from a young infant's adherence to the fundamental grouping processes of organization and categorization.

We have observed that coherent representations for individual shapes may develop through the application of Gestalt principles such as lightness similarity, form similarity, and good continuation. The ability to use perceptual similarity to group individual elements of a single visual pattern may be extended to the formation of category representations for multiple stimulus patterns presented over time. Extraction of regularities from a set of exemplars by means of a summary representation may occur for stimulus classes such as basic-level categories of nonhuman animal species. Differential experience with humans versus other categories of stimulation may facilitate a kind of representational magnification for humans, with the consequence that the representation for humans becomes simultaneously exemplar-based and magnet-like.

It would seem that a considerable degree of coherence and order emerges in the application and reapplication of basic core processes that function to group elements of objects to form perceptual wholes and to group multiple objects into perceptual categories. Core processes may include (1) deployment of Gestalt organizational principles, (2) representation of within-category similarity and between-category dissimilarity, (3) registration of correlations among attributes, and (4) formation of summary representations (i.e., prototypes) from sets of exemplars. The explanatory framework proposed here for how infants begin to organize experience thus highlights the role of these core processes. It must also be recognized that the core processes allow infants to rapidly acquire functional knowledge that can in turn affect the subsequent utilization of the core processes. Support for this idea was observed in the Quinn and Schyns (2003) findings in which infant learning of a part characterized as nonnatural in the Gestalt sense in the context of category learning influenced the organization of later presented visual pattern information. Additional support for the theme that core processes yield functional knowledge comes with the recognition of the variety of differences that can be observed for the representation of humans versus nonhuman animals. Core processes that are applied to nonequivalently experienced inputs begin to yield representations that reflect more or less advanced levels of structuring. In the present case, young infants may represent humans at a more advanced stage of processing than nonhuman animals in a way that is consistent with the more generally recognized expert-novice difference in conceptual representation.

As investigations into the beginnings of knowledge acquisition continue, one question that remains for the theoretical account presented here is to determine more precisely how long-term experiential knowledge interacts with short-term experiential knowledge acquired during a series of familiarization trials to produce a particular pattern of looking on preference test trials. However this question is resolved, the proposed model of core processes that allow for the rapid build-up of a knowledge base about the world that can in turn influence subsequent responding can accommodate much of the data on organization and categorization by young infants, and may represent a viable framework for thinking about the early course of knowledge acquisition in general.

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