In press: Developmental Science

  • Byers-heinlein K
  • Werker J
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The present research examined whether 3-month-old infants, the youngest found so far to engage in goal-related reasoning about human agents, would also act as if they attribute goals to a novel non-human agent, a self-propelled box. In two experiments, the infants seemed to have interpreted the box's actions as goal-directed after seeing the box approach object A as opposed to object B during familiarization. They thus acted as though they expected the box to maintain this goal and responded with increased attention when the box approached object B during test. In contrast, when object B was absent during familiarization and introduced afterwards, the infants' responses were consistent with their having recognized that they had no information to predict which of the two objects the box should choose during test and therefore responded similarly when the box approached either object. However, if object B was absent during familiarization and object A was in different positions but the box persistently approached it, thus demonstrating equifinal variations in its actions, the infants again acted as though they attributed to the box a goal directed towards object A and expected the box to maintain this goal even when object B was introduced and hence responded with prolonged looking when the box failed to do so during test. These results are consistent with the notion that (a) infants as young as 3 months appear to attribute goals to both human and non-human agents, and (b) even young infants can use certain behavioral cues, e.g. equifinal variations in agents' actions, to make inferences about agents' goals.

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  • Krista Byers-heinlein

  • Janet F Werker

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