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Grasping the Nature of Pictures Author(s): Judy S. DeLoache, Sophia L. Pierroutsakos, David H. Uttal, Karl S.

Rosengren and Alma Gottlieb Reviewed work(s): Source: Psychological Science, Vol. 9, No. 3 (May, 1998), pp. 205-210 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the Association for Psychological Science Stable URL: . Accessed: 21/01/2013 16:07
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Research Report
David H. Uttal, KarlS. Rosengren,andAlma Gottlieb JudyS. DeLoache, SophiaL. Pierroutsakos,
Universityof Illinois Abstract- Therole of experiencein the development of pictorial competence has been the centerof substantialdebate.Thefour studiespresentedhere help resolvethe controversy by systematically documenting and examiningmanual explorationof depicted objects by infants. We pictures,touching reportthat9-month-oldinfantsmanuallyinvestigate andfeeling depictedobjectsas if theywere real objectsand even trying to pick themup off thepage. Thesame behaviorwas observedin babies from two extremely differentsocieties (the UnitedStates and the Ivory Coast). This investigationof pictures occurs even though infants can discriminatebetween real objects and their depictions. By the time infantsare 19 monthsof age, their manual explorationis replaced by pointing at depicted objects. These results indicate that initial uncertainty about the nature of pictures leads infants to investigate them. Throughexperience,infants begin to acquire a concept of "picture? This concept includes the fact that a picture has a dual nature (it is both an object and a representation of somethingother than itself), as well as knowledgeabout the culturallyappropriate use of pictures. sional version of a three-dimensional DeLoacheet al. pattern.Further, and Slater et al. both showed that infants could discriminatebetween the two- and three-dimensional stimuli they used. This findingestablished thatthe resultsof theirstudieswere due to infants'abilityto recognize similarities between an object and its picture, and not just failureto distinguishbetween them. Alongside this evidence of sophisticated picture perception in infancy are several anecdotes and informal reports of young children confusing pictures and referents (Beilin & Pearlman, 1991; Church, 1961; Werner & Kaplan, 1967). For example, Perner (1991) described his 16-month-old son intently trying to step into a picture of a shoe. Murphy (1978) noted that 9-month-olds often "hit the pictures in the book and scratched at the pages as if trying to lift the picture from the page" (p. 379). Ninio and Bruner(1978) reported one child's attempts to grasp objects pictured in a book. The infants and young children in these observations acted as if they thought depicted objects were real objects, despite the presence of many cues, including relative size and flatness, to the contrary. However, it is not clear how much to make of these Mostpeoplethinktheyknowwhata picture so familiar mustbe anecdotes. is, anything They might represent occasional lapses made by a few 1980,p. xvii) (Gibson, simple. Theyarewrong. young children, or they might reflect a pervasive lack of understanding of the natureof pictures. Several theorists (including Beilin, in press; Ittelson, 1996; and It is thereforeimportant to know if these anecdotallyreported manSigel, 1978) have emphasizedthat substantialcomplexity is involved ual responses to pictures are common. If they are, then the current in perceiving,interpreting, using, and producingpictorialrepresenta- view of infant pictorial competence would need modification:The tions. Pictorial competenceencompassesa range of skills and knowlbehavior toward pictures described in these anecdotes inappropriate edge, from "the simplest perceptionof picturedinformation[to] the would have to be reconciled with the precocious picture perception of the conventionsandtechniquesof most sophisticatedunderstanding abilitiesdocumentedfor young infants.Accordingly,the initialgoal of the pictorialmedia"(DeLoache& Burns, 1994, p. 103). the researchreportedhere was to systematicallyexamineinfants'manThe originsof pictorialcompetencehave long been debated.Some ual behaviortowardpictures. Specifically, we wanted to see to what theorists,most notablyJamesGibson and his colleagues, have focused extent infants would treat depicted objects as if they were actual on the perceptionof pictures. They have arguedthat learning is not objects. To do so, we presented 9-month-old infants with realistic requiredfor picture perception because the process of picking up color of single objects and observedall manualbehaviors photographs is essentially the same for picturesas for the environment information directedtowardthe depictions. (Gibson, 1971, 1979; Kennedy,1974). Othertheoristshave arguedthat the "languageof pictures"must be learnedthroughexperience(GomSTUDY 1 brich, 1969, 1974; Goodman,1976). Severalstudieswith infantssupportthe idea thatpictureperception does not requirelearning.Dirks and Gibson (1977) documentedpicMethod ture recognitionin 5-month-oldinfants by showing that babies who hadbeen habituated to the face of a real persondishabituated to a phoSubjects The participantsin Study 1 were ten 9-month-old children (8.5of a novel but not to a of the familiar face. In face, tograph photograph other words, the infantsidentifiedthe similaritybetween the real per- 9.6 months, M = 9.1), half girls and half boys. Infants of this age son and a picture of that person. DeLoache, Strauss, and Maynard reach for and actively manipulateobjects, and they have good depth the same resultwith objects:Five-month-olds who had perception(Yonas & Granrud,1985; Yonas & Hartman,1993). As in (1979) reported been familiarizedwith a real doll looked longer at a photographof a all the studies reportedhere except Study 3, the sample was predomiof the familiardoll. Slater,Rose, and nantly middle class and white,1and stimulus order and gender were differentdoll thanat a photograph Morison(1984) found thateven newbornscan recognize a two-dimen- counterbalanced.

Addresscorrespondence to JudyS. DeLoache,Psychology Department, Universityof Illinois, 603 East Daniel, Champaign,IL 61820; e-mail:jdeloach@s. psych, VOL.9, NO.3, MAY1998

1. Parents werealwaysfully informed aboutthe generalpurpose of the as well as the specificprocedures to be followed.In addition, a research, was alwayspresent the session. parent throughout 1998American Copyright Psychological Society 205

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Grasping Pictures

Two picturebooks were constructed,each containingeight highly realistic color photographs of individual objects (common plastic toys). Each book containedthe same set of photographsin one of two orders.The depicted objects measured approximately3 cm x 3 cm. The pictures, mounted on cardboardpages (12.7 cm x 17.8 cm) securedby a plastic bindingin the center,appearedon the right side of the bindingpairedwith a blankwhite page on the left.

to A behaviorwas considered the behaviorwas at least 1 s in duration. of a different haveendedwhenthe subjectlookedaway,initiated category thehand(orhands)fromthepicture. behavior, changedhands,or removed a of given behavior were counted as one Uninterrupted repetitions for thetwo coderswas .90. Overallreliability instance of thatbehavior.


The basic result of this study is capturedin Figure 1. Every one of the 10 infantsin the study manuallyexploredat least one picture;they Each infant sat in a high chair, and a book was placed on the tray felt, rubbed,patted,and graspedat the depictedobjects as if they were directly in front of him or her.The infant was free to explore any part real objects. The average numberof manual behaviorsper child was of the surfaceof the open pages, but we preventedother activity (such 6.9, rangingfrom a low of 2 to a high of 23. Therewere no differences as turningpages or picking up the book). Each pictureremainedavail- for genderor order. able for approximately15 s. Eight of the childrenmade at least one attemptto graspa pictured object, reaching to it and curling their fingers aroundthe image (as shown in Fig. 1). Some babies were highly persistent, repeatedly Coding to pick the depictions up off the page. On average, the attempting Video recordingsof the sessions were coded for two categories of infantsmade 3.7 attemptsto grasppicturedobjects. However,this figmanual behavior directed toward the picturedobjects: One category ure is actually quite conservative,because any long bout of uninterwas grasping,a change of hand shape or curling of the finger (or finruptedgraspingmotions was coded as only a single graspattempt. gers) aftercontactingthe surfaceof the page. This behaviorappeared to the coders to be an attemptto pick up the depicted object. The second category included other deliberateinvestigativebehavior,contact Discussion and active explorationof the surfaceof the book. The results of the first study establishthe phenomenonof manual Relativelyconservative coding criteriawere adoptedto differentiate substantiate of picturesby infants.Ourformalobservations behaviors directed toward thepictures andindiscriminate investigation betweenmanual A manualbehaviorwas coded only if (a) the subject the informalanecdotesof babiesoccasionallybehavingtowardpictured handmovements. our data indicatethat was lookingat the picture(andhence at his or herhandon the book);(b) objects as if they were real objects. Furthermore, - at least for the population of infants the infant'shand,fingers,or both made contactwith the book's surface such behaviorsare very common we used. or withina 0.5-cm radiusaround eitherdirectlyon the depiction it; and(c) we studiedandwith the highly realisticcolor photographs


Fig. 1. Manualexplorationof picturedobjects by 9-month-oldAmericaninfants.Two infantsare shown makinggraspingmotionstowardthe depictions.To an observer,the infantsappearto be tryingto pick up the depictedobjects.
206 VOL. 9, NO. 3, MAY 1998

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J.S. DeLoacheet al. STUDY 2

view of pictorial The resultsof Study 1 suggested thatthe standard competence in infancy might need to be revised. First, however, we thought it importantto confirm that 9-month-olds can distinguish betweenthe kinds of depictedand real objects used in that study. infants from a very different society. This is an importantquestion, especially because cross-cultural data have figured prominently in debates about the development of picture perception (see Deregowski, 1989). Accordingly,observationswere made of infantsfrom a society in - Beng infants from severely which printed pictures are uncommon impoverishedand largely nonliteratefamilies living in a ruralvillage in the West African nation of Cote d'lvoire (Ivory Coast).3We preparednew books in which half of the eight pictureswere ones used in our previousstudies, and the other half were of common objects from the Beng community. The testing situation was extremely different from the well-controlled conditions in our laboratory. The infants sat outside, either on mats on the groundor on theirmothers'laps; goats and chickens wandered throughthe scene; attractedby the video camera, many additional adults and children gathered around, talking and carryingon theirdaily activities. Despite the dramatically different circumstances, the infants' behaviortowardthe color photographswas remarkably similarto that of the Americanchildren. More specifically,6 of the 8 Beng infants, who ranged between 8 and 18 months of age, manually investigated the picturesin much the same way as the 9-month-oldAmericanchildren had done.4Figure 2 shows the behaviorof 2 of the Beng babies. The culturalfamiliarityof the depictedobjects did not appearto affect the infants'behavior. These observationsindicatethat the tendencyto actively explore a depicted object is a very general one, exhibited both by infantsfrom the midwest of the United States and by Beng babies from West Africa. The phenomenon first documented in Study 1 is thus an extremelyrobustone.

The participantswere eight 9-month-olds (8.6-9.8 months, M = 9.3), 4 males and4 females.


The stimuliwere a set of eight small toys and color photos of those objects(similarto those used in Study 1). Each depictedobject was the real object (ca. 3 cm x 5 cm). To make same size as the corresponding the procedureas similar as possible to the procedurein Study 1, we presentedeach picture-objectpair in a book format.Two books were in the same manneras in Study 1, except thatthe left-right constructed position of the eight picturesvaried,with four pictureson the left and four on the right,so thatstimulustype (picturevs. object) andposition (left vs. right)were counterbalanced.

On each of the eight trials, an object and its picturewere simultaneously presented,with the object affixed in the center of the blank book page opposite the picture.The open book was first held in front of the infant,out of reach, so the infantwould see both stimuli before then placed the book on the tray,and the reaching.The experimenter infantwas allowed 15 s to exploreeitheror both of the stimuli.

STUDY 4 Results and Discussion

The dependent measure was preferential reaching. There was unambiguousevidence of discrimination:86% of the infants' first reaches were to the objects, a rate significantly greaterthan chance, two-tailed f(7) = 6.01, p < .05. After first contacting the object, the infants went on to contact the picture 40% of the time. Overall, the infantscontactedthe objects on 95% of the trials, as opposed to only Therewere no differencesfor genderor order. 48% for the pictures.2 This study establishes that 9-month-old infants can differentiate between the kinds of objects and color photographsused in Study 1 and that they prefer real objects over pictures of objects. Thus, the manualexplorationof picturesdocumentedin Study 1 was not due to stimuli. an inabilityto distinguishbetweentwo- andthree-dimensional The final study reportedhere examined the developmentalcourse of manual explorationof pictures. Having established that 9-monthold infantsactivelyexploredepictedobjects, we askedhow this behavior changes with age. We tested three age groups of infants to see if in they differedin the frequencyof the investigativebehaviorsreported the previous studies. We also assessed the occurrenceof a different, - pointingat the pictures. manualbehavior culturallyappropriate

Method Subjects
The participants were 48 children,with 8 girls and 8 boys in each of three age groups: 9-month-olds (8.6-9.8 months, M = 9.1), 15-month-olds (14.3-15.9 months, M = 15.2), and 19-month-olds (18.2-20.0 months,M= 19.3).

In a third,less formal study,we asked how common manualinvestigation of pictures is, and, in particular,whether it would occur in

The books used were similarto those in Study 1 except thatwe varied the size of the pictures(3 cm x 3 cm or 6 cm x 6 cm) and whether on the rightor left (opposite a blankpage). they appeared

in behavior 2. We did not code the infants'manual toward the pictures thedetailed waywe didin Study1. Onereasonwas thatourfocusin Study In addition, 2 wasto establish discrimination. the infantwas 3. Formoreon Bengsociety,see Gottlieb andGra(1992)andGottlieb picture-object - presumably the preferred ham(1993). typicallystill holdingthe objectin one hand - whenhe or she thencontacted the picture withthe otherhand,and 4. The videotapes werenot of sufficient hand qualityfor us to do the highly howthisfactormightaffectmanual of pictures. detailed it was unclear exploration codingthatwe did in Study1. VOL. 9, NO.3, MAY1998 207

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Fig. 2. Manualexplorationof picturedobjects by Beng infantsfrom the Cote d'lvoire (WestAfrica). Despite greatdifferencesin the testing the Beng infants'responseto the pictureswas very similarto thatof the Americaninfants. situations,,

Procedureand coding
Everythingwas the same as in Study 1, except thata thirdcategory of behaviors,pointing,was also coded. This behaviorwas coded when the infantextendedan index fingertowardthe picture.

Results and Discussion

Figure 3 shows opposite developmentaltrendsfor manual investigation and pointing. The level of manual investigation of depicted objects (graspingand otherinvestigativebehaviorscombined)differed substantiallyas a function of age: Among the 9-month-olds, such behaviorswere common (thus replicatingthe results of Study I),5but among the 19-month-olds,they were very rare.The opposite pattern occurredfor pointingto depictedobjects. The older infantsfrequently pointedto the pictures,often looking at an adultand vocalizing as they did so, but the youngerinfantsalmost neverpointed. For the number of manual investigative behaviors, a significant main effect was found for age, F(2, 26) = 7.714, p < .01, in a 3 (age) x 2 (gender)x 2 (picturesize) x 2 (pictureposition: left vs. right)mixed analysis of variancewith pictureposition as the within-subjectsvariable. The main effect of age was also significantin a similar analysis of pointing,F(2, 26) = 7.985, p < .01. Post hoc analyses indicatedthat the 9-month-oldsinvestigatedsignificantlymore thanthe older infants,

whereas the 19-month-oldspointed significantlymore often than did the youngertwo groups. We also found main effects for pictureposition (left vs. right) for both manual investigation,F(l, 36) = 8.990, p < .01, and pointing, F(l, 36) = 5.238, p < .05, as well as an interactionbetween age and pictureposition, F(2, 36) = 4.673, p < .05. The 9-month-oldsinvestimore thanthose on the left, gated the pictureson the rightsubstantially but the othertwo age groups showed no left or rightpreference.There were no significanteffects for genderor picturesize. The divergenttrendsfor manualinvestigationand pointingindicate that the direct response to picturesthat is so common for the younger infants does not stem from an inability to inhibit a manualresponse. Although the overall level of manual behavior directed to depicted objects remainedconstantacross age groups,the natureof thatactivity changeddramatically. These resultsindicatethatthe tendencyto responddirectlyto the surconventional behavior face of a pictureis gradually replaced by culturally off thepageas their withpictures. Instead of attempting to pickdepictions did,theolderchildren youngercounterparts pointedto them.Pointingwas such as "ooh,ben!"or often accompanied by labeling(e.g., exclamations "ahh,teltone"while pointingto the pictureof the bearor the telephone). As they pointed,the childrenoften looked up to a parentor the experiaboutthepicture. to initiatean interaction menter, apparently attempting

5. Given the well-knownright bias in infant attentionand reaching We have presented systematic evidence of a hitherto undocu& Hiscock, 1983), the slightlylower rateof manualbehav(Kinsbourne - manual exploration of depicted objects by iors in this studycompared with Study 1 may well have been due to the mented phenomenon factthathalfthe stimuliwerepresented infants. Although references to such behavior have occasionally on the left. 208 VOL.9, NO.3, MAY1998

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J.S. DeLoache et al.

three-dimensional stimuli by younger infants (DeLoache et al., 1979; Slater et al., 1984). Second, our participants never appeared upset or even particularly surprised at the fruitlessness of their efforts. Even the most persistent infants, who repeatedly tried to grasp picture after picture, were relatively matter-of-fact about their failure. We surmise that the manual response to pictures that we have documented is the investigation of novel and somewhat puzzling stimuli. In many ways, a picture looks like an object; in many ways, it does not. Because young infants do not know what a picture is, that is, because they do not understand the two-dimensional nature of pictures and all that implies, they investigate. They treat a depiction as though it were an object, not because they firmly believe it is, but because they are unsure that it is not. Further support for this line of argument comes from recent studies showing that 9-month-olds do not manually investigate nonpictorial elements of two-dimensional displays and that less realistic pictures (black-and-white photographs, line drawings) elicit substantially less manual response (Pierroutsakos & DeLoache, 1997). We would expect even less manual interaction with nonrepresentational "markings" (Ittelson, 1996) such as abstract designs or writing. We propose that through experience, infants learn a great deal about pictures, including that pictures are not real objects - that they are not manipulable, smellable, eatable, and so forth. Infants also presumably learn something about how pictures are used, including the fact that parents talk and ask questions about them. Children learn to point to depicted objects both in response to parental directives and queries and as a means of initiating or directing an interaction. Thus, children learn to behave cognitively and emotionally to depicted objects as if they were real, while inhibiting physical responses to them. To paraphrase Werner and Kaplan (1967), children learn to treat pictures as objects of contemplation and communication, not action. This interpretation of the results reported here is consistent with the view of theorists who have emphasized the dual nature of pictures. Gregory (1970) noted that "pictures are unique" in that "they are seen both as themselves and as some other thing" (p. 32). Gibson (1979) pointed out that "a picture is both a surface in its own right and a display of information about something else" (p. 282). Because of this dual nature, picture perception "always requires two kinds of apprehension that go on at the same time" (p. 283). To interpret a picture, the viewer must both see the picture- an object composed of markings on a flat surface - and "see through" the picture to its referent (Ittelson, 1996). Both are necessary; neither is sufficient. Young infants with no pictorial experience can be said to see through pictures; their ability to recognize pictures of familiar objects indicates that a picture activates their mental representation of the object itself. As infants begin to comprehend words, adult labeling directs their attention to pictures just as it directs their attention to real objects. Young infants can also be said to see the surface of pictures in that they can discriminate between pictures and objects. Nevertheless, they do not fully understand how pictures and objects differ; they do not understand the nature of pictures as objects. Several months later- by 19 months in our sample - infants typically respond appropriately to the dual nature of pictures; as per Gibson's (1979) dictum, they exhibit "two kinds of apprehension" at the same time. This achievement, we believe, involves the development of a concept of "picture" (DeLoache & Burns, 1994; DeLoache, Pierroutsakos, & Troseth, 1997). This concept includes features such as two-dimensional, nontangible, and nonreal, as well as some representation of the contexts in which pictures typically occur and the uses to which they

Fig. 3. Average frequency of manual investigation (investigative behaviors and grasping combined) and pointing directed toward pictured objects as a function of age.

appeared in the psychological literature, picture-directed manual activity has not previously been investigated. Our results are clearly replicable, as evidenced by the data reported in Studies 1 and 4. Furthermore, similar results have been found in a series of recent studies (Pierroutsakos, 1994; Pierroutsakos & DeLoache, 1997). The phenomenon is also quite robust. Manual investigation of pictures was displayed by almost all the young infants we observed, whether they were from a pictorially rich society or from a culture in which pictures are rare. Why do young infants routinely try to feel, hit, rub, and pick up depicted objects? Two aspects of the infants' behavior in our studies help answer this question. First, Study 2 ruled out the possibility that infants cannot distinguish depictions from real objects, a finding that agrees with research showing visual discrimination between two- and

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Grasping Pictures are put. A two-part, or dual, mental representation then occurs when a picture is encountered: A picture of entity X is represented as "picture of and "X." Some or all of the viewer's existing representation of X is activated, just as it would be by seeing the real entity X. The "picture of tag specifies that this X is not a real X, but rather a picture of X. It signifies that some of the attributes in the child's mental representation of X - specifically, those having to do with its three-dimensionality do not apply. The "picture of tag inhibits direct physical action toward the depicted X. This two-part representation thus, to use Ittelson's (1996) term, "decouples" the informational content of the picture from its source - the surface of the picture. Acquisition of the picture concept is necessary for developing pictorial competence, but it is far from the whole story. For example, it takes several years for children to sort out the full nature of picturereferent relations. Preschool children sometimes confuse the properties of objects and pictures, indicating, for example, that a photograph of an ice cream cone could be cold to touch and even occasionally lapsing into manual behavior toward pictures (Beilin & Pearlman, 1991). Children of this age often think, on the one hand, that an action carried out on a picture will affect its referent (Flavell, Flavell, Green, & Korfmacher, 1990) and, on the other hand, that an action on a real object will transform a picture of the object (Robinson, Nye, & Thomas, 1994; Zaitchik, 1990). Further, children only gradually acquire various representational conventions, such as the use of lines to represent speed (e.g., Friedman & Stevenson, 1975; Gross et al., 1991). In conclusion, we have presented evidence of a very early step in achieving pictorial competence. The results reported here help us to resolve the long-standing controversy alluded to in the beginning of this article. Gibson and his colleagues were clearly right that learning is not necessary for the perception of simple pictures: Infants automatically perceive pictures, seeing through them to the objects depicted. However, Goodman and his supporters were also right that infants must learn about pictures; although they can see a picture's surface (its two-dimensionality), they have to learn what that surface signifies. Physically grasping at pictures helps infants begin to mentally grasp the true nature of pictures. Acknowledgments- The researchreportedhere was supportedin part by HD-25271 from the NationalInstituteof Child HealthandHumanDevelopwhile the first author was prepared ment to the first author.This manuscript was a fellow at the Centerfor Advanced Study in the BehavioralSciences Founwith financialsupportfrom the John D. and CatherineT. MacArthur dation,GrantNo. 95-32005-0. Datacollection for Study 3 was partiallysupportedby awardsto the fifth authorfrom the National Endowmentfor the Research Foundationfor Anthropological Humanitiesandthe Wenner-Gren for field researchon infancy among the Beng in Cote d'lvoire.
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(Received 6/25/97; Accepted 11/25/97)


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