Are Cognition and Perception Distinct Mechanisms in Development?

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Middlebury College
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Cognition and perception are two distinct mechanisms in development. In essence, these two aspects develop over time until one reaches adulthood. For instance, according to Moulson et al. (2009), the development of face perception is mainly an experience-expectant and activity-dependent process whereby the experiences of infants with faces early in life is correlated with the shaping of their cortical systems that give rise to expertise in facial processing. Also, the researchers also highlighted that between 6 and nine months of age, the face perception of infants becomes species-specific in that they lose their capability of discriminating monkey faces but also retain their capacity to discriminate human faces. From this, it can be derived that when children aged nine months old are exposed to monkey faces through picture books; they can retain their ability to discriminate the monkey faces. However, after the age of 9 months, children have already gathered much experience in face perception. For this reason, experience also plays a significant role in perception. For instance, as Moulson et al. (2009) point out, people who are born with cataracts, which block patterned visual output, significantly show rapid improvement in low-level visual abilities, for example, acuity if the cataracts are removed in their first year of life. Even so, after years of normal visual output, the people reveal persistent deficits in face perception, such as difficulty in detecting small changes in the spacing of the facial features, which significantly impair the recognition of a persons identity.

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In addition, according to Wang and Baillargeon (2006), infants object-recognition system represents detailed information about the objects in an event, for categorization and recognition purposes. However, the physical reasoning system of the infant represents variable and basic information about an event to interpret and predict an outcome. If the infant wants to include information about the variables in the physical representation of the event, and the information is no longer available, they can access their object recognition system so that they can retrieve the necessary information. For this reason, this shows that the perception and cognition are two distinct mechanisms in development. If an infant cannot access the perception information about an item or event, they can utilize their cognition to identify the item or object. As such, perception and cognition are separate in an infants development.

As Leslie, Xu, Tremoulet, and Scholl (1998) note, a key component of object cognition are an internal representation that functions as an index to the physical object in the world. Furthermore, in their experiment, they found out that in the spatial condition, children aged ten months looked longer when the screen revealed single objects; but in the temporal condition, they looked equally at the revelation of one or two objects. However, they appeared to infer that a cup and a shoe must be distinct unless they saw both concurrently. Even so, when they were showed the shoe and the cup at different times, they were not able to infer the presence of two distinct objects. On the other hand, older infants, particularly aged 12 months during the experiment were able to infer the two objects in both conditions successfully. For this reason, it can be suggested that both perception and cognition are two distinct aspects of development. They develop in infants differently. In essence, children recognize objects but cannot perceive them, which warrants the conclusion that the two are distinct mechanisms of development.


Leslie, A. M., Xu, F., Tremoulet, P. D., & Scholl, B. J. (1998). Indexing and the object concept: developing what' and where' systems. Trends in cognitive sciences, 2(1), 10-18.

Moulson, M. C., Westerlund, A., Fox, N. A., Zeanah, C. H., & Nelson, C. A. (2009). The Effects of Early Experience on Face Recognition: An EventRelated Potential Study of Institutionalized Children in Romania. Child Development, 80(4), 1039-1056.

Wang, S. H., & Baillargeon, R. (2006). Infants' physical knowledge affects their change detection. Developmental Science, 9(2), 173-181.

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