Discrimination of ordinal relationships in temporal sequences by 4-month-old infants

Cognition. 2020 Feb;195:104091. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104091. Epub 2019 Nov 15.


The ability to discriminate the ordinal information embedded in magnitude-based sequences has been shown in 4-month-old infants, both for numerical and size-based sequences. At this early age, however, this ability is confined to increasing sequences, with infants failing to extract and represent decreasing order. Here we investigate whether the ability to represent order extends to duration-based sequences in 4-month-old infants, and whether it also shows the asymmetry signature previously observed for number and size. Infants were tested in an order discrimination task in which they were habituated to either increasing or decreasing variations in temporal duration, and were then tested with novel sequences composed of new temporal items whose durations varied following the familiar and the novel orders in alternation. Across three experiments, we manipulated the duration of the single temporal items and therefore of the whole sequences, which resulted in imposing more or less constraints on infants' working memory, or general processing capacities. Results showed that infants failed at discriminating the ordinal direction in temporal sequences when the sequences had an overall long duration (Experiment 1), but succeeded when the duration of the sequences was shortened (Experiments 2 and 3). Moreover, there was no sign of the asymmetry signature previously reported for number and size, as successful discrimination was present for infants habituated to both increasing and decreasing sequences. These results suggest that sensitivity to temporal order is present very early in development, and that its functional properties are not shared with other magnitude dimensions, such as size and number.

Keywords: Habituation; Infants; Ordering operations; Temporal duration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*