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Jennifer Porter
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Last modified: Monday, February 2, 2009

$1 million grant to fund toddler object recognition study

Feb. 2, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Researchers in Indiana University's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences have received a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the role of developmental changes in children's object recognition.

The study is led by Assistant Professor Karin James with the assistance of Linda Smith, professor and chair of the department, and Professor Susan Jones. With the funding awarded by NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, they hope to investigate how children learn about physical objects.

Although visual object recognition processes play a central role in human cognition, little is known about the development of these processes beyond the earliest stage of infancy. The researchers are studying children between 18 months and 24 months old, a period of rapid language expansion. Prior work has shown that significant developmental change in object recognition also occurs during this time period.

"With this research program, we hope to better understand how children learn about objects -- a crucial skill for typical development to occur," James said. "At this age, children explore everything with their hands, and can give us valuable insights into the purpose of this kind of object manipulation for not only vision, but also the development of language and motor skills."

Using cross-sectional and training studies, researchers will focus on three aspects of visual object representations: causes and consequences of a preference for viewing the planes of objects rather than views of areas between planar surfaces; causes of developmental changes in how children hold and move objects relative to an object's axes of elongation, and the consequences for children's perception and representation of objects; and the ability to recognize objects from sparse characterizations of their geometric structure.

Preliminary studies show that these aspects, which are important in studies of high-level vision in adults, have roots in the 18- to 24-month age rage. The studies will investigate the roles of action in each of these aspects of typically developing children's visual object recognition.

The grant, which also provides support for graduate students, will allow the study to continue for five years.

Research will primarily take place in James' Cognition and Action Neuroimaging Lab. Research in the lab focuses primarily on action-perception interactions and perceptual expertise. The Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences is in the College of Arts and Sciences. For more information, visit