Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception Institut Neurosciences Cognition Université Paris Descartes Centre National de Recherche Scientifique
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Baby Lab

The Emergence of tool use during the second year of life

Despite a growing interest for the question of tool use development in infants, no study has so far systematically investigated how learning to use a tool to retrieve an out-of-reach object progresses with age. This was the first aim of this study, in which 60 infants, aged 14, 16, 18, 20 or 22 months, were presented with an attractive toy and a rake-like tool. There were five conditions of spatial relationships between the toy and the tool, going from toy and tool being connected, to there being a large spatial gap between them. A second aim of the study was to evaluate at what age infants who spontaneously fail the task can learn this complex skill by being given a demonstration from an adult. Results show that even some of the youngest infants could spontaneously retrieve the toy when it was presented inside and touching the top part of the tool. In contrast, in conditions with a spatial gap, the first spontaneous successes were observed at 18 months, suggesting that a true understanding of the use of the tool has not been fully acquired before that age. Interestingly, it is also at 18 months that infants began to benefit from the demonstration in the conditions with spatial gap. The developmental steps for tool use observed here are discussed in terms of changes in infants' ability to attend to more than one item in the environment. The work provides insight into the progressive understanding of tool-use in infancy, and into how observational learning improves with age.