Four experiments examined 8- and 9-month-old infants’ expectations about collision events. The infants saw test events in which a small cylinder rolled down a ramp and hit one of several different boxes. These boxes varied in width and height and always remained stationary when hit. The results revealed two separate developments. The first involved infants’ knowledge of the variables relevant to collision events. At 8 months, the infants expected all of the boxes to move when hit, regardless of their sizes; at 9 months, the infants began to take into account the size of the boxes to predict whether they should move when hit. The second development concerned infants’ ability to generate explanations for outcomes that violated their collision knowledge. At both ages, upon observing that a box with a salient vertical dimension did not move when hit, the infants apparently concluded that the box must be one of those objects we term pillars—vertical objects that are attached at one or both ends to adjacent surfaces. At 8 months, the infants considered any vertical box as a potential pillar; at 9 months, the infants considered only boxes that were both vertical and narrow as potential pillars. The development of infants’ knowledge about collision events is thus one that is complex and protracted and weaves together many separate developments.
Infant cognition; Physical reasoning; Causal expectations; Statistical expectations; Collision events
Eight experiments were conducted to examine 3- and 3.5-month-old infants’ responses to occlusion events. The results revealed two developments, one in infants’ knowledge of when objects should and should not be occluded and the other in infants’ ability to posit additional objects to make sense of events that would otherwise violate their occlusion knowledge. The first development is that, beginning at about 3 months of age, infants expect an object to become temporarily visible when passing behind an occluder with an opening extending from its lower edge. The second development is that, beginning at about 3.5 months of age, infants generate a two-object explanation when shown a violation in which an object fails to become visible when passing behind an occluder with an opening in its lower edge. Unless given information contradicting such an explanation, infants infer that two identical objects are involved in the event, one traveling to the left and one to the right of the opening. These and related findings provide the basis for a model of young infants’ responses to occlusion events; alternative models are also discussed.
The present research examined two alternative interpretations of violation-of-expectation findings that young infants can represent hidden objects. One interpretation is that, when watching an event in which an object becomes hidden behind another object, infants form a prediction about the event’s outcome while both objects are still visible, and then check whether this prediction was accurate. The other interpretation is that infants’ initial representations of hidden objects are weak and short-lived and as such sufficient for success in most violation-of-expectation tasks (as objects are typically hidden for only a few seconds at a time), but not more challenging tasks. Five-month-old infants succeeded in reasoning about the interaction of a visible and a hidden object even though (1) the two objects were never simultaneously visible, and (2) a 3- or 4-min delay preceded the test trials. These results provide evidence for robust representations of hidden objects in young infants.
Infant cognition; Object permanence; Memory
Recent research suggests that one of the mechanisms that contribute to infants’ acquisition of their physical know ledge is the formation of event categories, such as occlusion and containment. Some of this research compared infants’ identification of similar variables in different event categories. M arked developmental lags w ere found, suggesting that infants acquire event-specific rather than event-general expectations. Other research – on variable priming, perseveration, and object individuation – presented infants w ith successive events from the same or from different event categories. To understand the w orld as it unfolds, infants must not only represent each separate event, but also link successive events; this research begins to explore how infants respond to multiple events over time.
The present research examined alternative accounts of prior violation-of-expectation (VOE) reports that young infants can represent and reason about hidden objects. According to these accounts, young infants’ apparent success in these VOE tasks reflects only novelty and familiarity preferences induced by the habituation or familiarization trials in the tasks. In two experiments, 4-month-old infants were tested in VOE tasks with test trials only. The infants still gave evidence that they could represent and reason about hidden objects: they were surprised, as indicated by greater attention, when a wide object became fully hidden behind a narrow occluder (Experiment 1) or inside a narrow container (Experiment 2). These and control results demonstrate that young infants can succeed at VOE tasks involving hidden objects even when given no habituation or familiarization trials. The present research thus provides additional support for the conclusion that young infants possess expectations about hidden objects. Methodological issues concerning the use of habituation or familiarization trials in VOE tasks are also discussed.
Infants’ physical reasoning; Violation-of-expectation findings; Novelty and familiarity preferences
Research over the past 20 years has revealed that even very young infants possess expectations about physical events, and that these expectations undergo significant developments during the first year of life. In this article, I first review some of this research, focusing on infants’ expectations about occlusion, containment, and covering events, all of which involve hidden objects. Next, I present an account of infants’ physical reasoning that integrates these various findings, and describe new experiments that test predictions from this account. Finally, because all of the research I discuss uses the violation-of-expectation method, I address recent concerns about this method and summarize new findings that help alleviate these concerns.
In the present research, 6.5-month-old infants perseverated in a violation-of-expectation task designed to examine their reasoning about width information in containment events. After watching a familiarization event in which a ball was lowered into a wide container, the infants failed to detect the violation in a test event in which the same ball was lowered into a container only half as wide as the ball (narrow-container test event). This negative result (which was replicated in another experiment) was interpreted in terms of a recent problem-solving account of infants’ perseverative errors in various means-end tasks (Aguiar, A., & Baillargeon, R. (2000). Perseveration and problem solving in infancy. In H. W. Reese (Ed.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 27, pp. 135–180). San Diego, CA: Academic Press). It was assumed that the infants in the present experiments (1) did not attend to the relative widths of the ball and container in their initial analysis of the narrow-container test event, (2) categorized the event as similar to the familiarization event shown on the preceding trials, and (3) retrieved the expectation they had formed for that event (“the ball will fit into the container”), resulting in a perseverative error. This interpretation was supported by additional experiments in which different modifications were introduced that led to non-perseverative responding, indicating that 6.5-month-old infants could detect the violation in the narrow-container test event. The present findings are important for several reasons. First, they provide the first demonstration of perseverative responding in a violation-of-expectation task. Second, they make clear the breadth and usefulness of the problem-solving account mentioned above. Finally, they add to the evidence for some degree of continuity between infants’ and adults’ problem-solving abilities.
Infant cognition; Physical reasoning; Violation-of-expectation task; Perseveration
Recent experiments suggest that infants’ expectations about agents’ actions are guided by a principle of rationality: in particular, infants expect agents to pursue their goals efficiently, expending as little effort as possible. However, these experiments have all presented infants with infrequent or odd actions, leaving the results open to alternative interpretations and making it difficult to determine whether infants possess a general expectation of efficiency. Here we devised a critical test of the rationality principle that did not involve infrequent or odd actions. In two experiments, 16-month-olds watched events in which an agent faced two identical goal objects; although both objects could be reached by typical, everyday actions, one object was physically (Experiment 1) or mentally (Experiment 2) more accessible than the other. In both experiments, infants expected the agent to select the more accessible object, providing new evidence that infants possess a general and robust expectation of efficiency.
Rationality; Efficiency; Goals; Psychological reasoning; Infant cognition
How sophisticated are infants at using novel verbal information when reasoning about which of two objects an agent is likely to select? The present research examined the development of infants’ ability to interpret a change from one novel word to another as signaling a possible change in which object the agent would choose next. In three experiments, 7- and 12-month-olds were familiarized to an event in which they heard a novel word ("A dax!") and then saw an agent reach for one of two distinct objects. During test, the infants heard a different novel word ("A pilk!") and then saw the agent grasp the same object or the other object. At 7 months, infants ignored the change in word and expected the agent to continue reaching for the same object. At 12 months, however, infants attended to the change in word: They realized that it signaled a possible change in the agent’s upcoming actions, though they were unable to form a specific expectation about what these new actions might be, most likely due to their limited mutual-exclusivity assumption. Control conditions supported these interpretations. Together, these results suggest that by 12 months of age, infants understand not only that words are selected for communicative purposes, but also that a change from one novel word to another may signal a change in an agent’s upcoming actions.
The psychological capacity to recognize that others may hold and act on false beliefs has been proposed to reflect an evolved, species-typical adaptation for social reasoning in humans; however, controversy surrounds the developmental timing and universality of this trait. Cross-cultural studies using elicited-response tasks indicate that the age at which children begin to understand false beliefs ranges from 4 to 7 years across societies, whereas studies using spontaneous-response tasks with Western children indicate that false-belief understanding emerges much earlier, consistent with the hypothesis that false-belief understanding is a psychological adaptation that is universally present in early childhood. To evaluate this hypothesis, we used three spontaneous-response tasks that have revealed early false-belief understanding in the West to test young children in three traditional, non-Western societies: Salar (China), Shuar/Colono (Ecuador) and Yasawan (Fiji). Results were comparable with those from the West, supporting the hypothesis that false-belief understanding reflects an adaptation that is universally present early in development.
theory of mind; evolutionary psychology; false-belief understanding; social cognition; human universals
The present research used a preferential-reaching task to examine whether 9- and 11-month-olds (n = 144) could infer the relative weights of two objects resting on a soft, compressible platform. Experiment 1 established that infants reached preferentially for the lighter of two boxes. In Experiments 2 to 4, infants saw two boxes identical except in weight resting on a cotton wool platform. Infants reached prospectively for the lighter box, but only when their initial exploratory activities provided critical information. At 11 months, infants succeeded as long as they first determined that the platform was compressible; at 9 months, infants succeeded only if they also explored the boxes and thus had advance knowledge that they differed in weight.
Recent research indicates that toddlers and infants succeed at various non-verbal spontaneous-response false-belief tasks; here we asked whether toddlers would also succeed at verbal spontaneous-response false-belief tasks that imposed significant linguistic demands. 2.5-year-olds were tested using two novel tasks: a preferential-looking task in which children listened to a false-belief story while looking at a picture book (with matching and non-matching pictures), and a violation-of-expectation task in which children watched an adult “Subject” answer (correctly or incorrectly) a standard false-belief question. Positive results were obtained with both tasks, despite their linguistic demands. These results (1) support the distinction between spontaneous-and elicited-response tasks by showing that toddlers succeed at verbal false-belief tasks that do not require them to answer direct questions about agents’ false beliefs, (2) reinforce claims of robust continuity in early false-belief understanding as assessed by spontaneous-response tasks, and (3) provide researchers with new experimental tasks for exploring early false-belief understanding in neurotypical and autistic populations.
Much of the research on object individuation in infancy has used a task in which two different objects emerge in alternation from behind a large screen, which is then removed to reveal either one or two objects. In their seminal work, Xu and Carey (1996) found that it is typically not until the end of the first year that infants detect a violation when a single object is revealed. Since then, a large number of investigations have modified the standard task in various ways and found that young infants succeed with some but not with other modifications, yielding a complex and unwieldy picture. In this article, we argue that this confusing picture can be better understood by bringing to bear insights from a related subfield of infancy research, physical reasoning. By considering how infants reason about object information within and across physical events, we can make sense of apparently inconsistent findings from different object-individuation tasks. In turn, object-individuation findings deepen our understanding of how physical reasoning develops in infancy. Integrating the insights from physical-reasoning and object-individuation investigations thus enriches both subfields and brings about a clearer account of how infants represent objects and events.
Prior research suggests that children younger than age 3 or 4 do not understand that an agent may be deceived by an object’s misleading appearance. The authors asked whether 14.5-month-olds would give evidence in a violation-of-expectation task that they understand that agents may form false perceptions. Infants first watched events in which an agent faced a stuffed skunk and a doll with blue pigtails; the agent consistently reached for the doll, suggesting that she preferred it over the skunk. Next, while the agent was absent, the doll was hidden in a plain box, and the skunk was hidden in a box with a tuft of blue hair protruding from under its lid. Infants expected the agent to be misled by the tuft’s resemblance to the doll’s hair and to falsely perceive it as belonging to the doll. These and other results indicate that 14.5-month-old infants can already reason about agents’ false perceptions.
infant cognition; action comprehension; psychological reasoning; theory of mind; false perception
Prior research suggests that infants attend to a variable in an event category when they have identified it as relevant for predicting outcomes in the category, and that the age at which infants identify a variable depends largely on the age at which they are exposed to appropriate observations. Thus, depending on age of exposure, infants may identify the same variable at different ages in different event categories. A good case in point is the variable height, which is identified at about 3.5 months in occlusion events, but only at about 12 months in covering events and 14 months in tube events. In the present experiments, 11-month-olds detected a change to an object’s height in an occlusion but not a covering event, and 12.5-month-olds detected a similar change in a covering but not a tube event. Thus, infants succeeded in detecting a change to an object’s height in an event where height had been identified as a relevant variable, but failed to detect the exact same change in another event where height had not yet been identified as a relevant variable. These findings provide evidence that infants’ physical knowledge affects which changes they detect in physical events. Possible mechanisms underlying these findings are also discussed, in light of recent accounts of change detection in adults.
For more than two decades, researchers have argued that young children do not understand mental states such as beliefs. Part of the evidence for this claim comes from preschoolers’ failure at verbal tasks that require the understanding that others may hold false beliefs. Here, we used a novel nonverbal task to examine 15-month-old infants’ ability to predict an actor’s behavior on the basis of her true or false belief about a toy’s hiding place. Results were positive, supporting the view that, from a young age, children appeal to mental states—goals, perceptions, and beliefs—to explain the behavior of others.
The notion of innate ideas has long been the subject of intense debate in the fields of philosophy and cognitive science. Over the past few decades, methodological advances have made it possible for developmental researchers to begin to examine what innate ideas—what innate concepts and principles—might contribute to infants’ knowledge acquisition in various core domains. This article focuses on the domain of physical reasoning and on Spelke’s (1988, 1994) proposal that principles of continuity and cohesion guide infants’ interpretation of physical events. The article reviews recent evidence that these two principles are in fact corollaries of a single and more powerful principle of persistence, which states that objects persist, as they are, in time and space.
The present research investigated whether 13.5-month-old infants would attribute to an actor a disposition to perform a recurring action, and would then use this information to predict which of two new objects—one that could be used to perform the action and one that could not—the actor would grasp next. During familiarization, the infants watched an actor slide various objects forward and backward on an apparatus floor. During test, the infants saw two new identical objects placed side by side: one stood inside a short frame that left little room for sliding; the other stood inside a longer frame that left ample room for sliding. The infants who saw the actor grasp the object inside the short frame looked reliably longer than those who saw the actor grasp the object inside the long frame. This and control results from a lifting condition provide evidence that by 13.5 months, infants can attribute to an actor a disposition to perform a particular action.
Two experiments examined infants’ expectations about how an experimenter should distribute resources and rewards to others. In Experiment 1, 19-month-olds expected an experimenter to divide two items equally, as opposed to unequally, between two individuals. Infants held no particular expectation when the individuals were replaced with inanimate objects, or when the experimenter simply removed covers in front of the individuals to reveal the items (instead of distributing them). In Experiment 2, 21-month-olds expected an experimenter to give a reward to each of two individuals when both had worked to complete an assigned chore, but not when one of the individuals had done all the work while the other played. Infants held this expectation only when the experimenter could determine through visual inspection who had worked and who had not. Together, these results provide converging evidence that infants in the second year of life already possess context sensitive-expectations relevant to fairness.
social cognition; morality; infant development
The present research examined whether 9.5-month-old infants can attribute to an agent a disposition to perform a particular action on objects, and can then use this disposition to predict which of two new objects—one that can be used to perform the action and one that cannot—the agent is likely to reach for next. The infants first received familiarization trials in which they watched an agent slide either three (Experiments 1 and 3) or six (Experiment 2) different objects forward and backward on an apparatus floor. During test, the infants saw two new identical objects placed side by side: one stood inside a short frame that left little room for sliding, and the other stood inside a longer frame that left ample room for sliding. The infants who saw the agent slide six different objects attributed to her a disposition to slide objects: they expected her to select the “slidable” as opposed to the “unslidable” test object, and they looked reliably longer when she did not. In contrast, the infants who saw the agent slide only three different objects looked about equally when she selected either test object. These results add to recent evidence that infants in the first year of life can attribute dispositions to agents, and can use these dispositions to help predict agents’ actions in new contexts.
Infant cognition; Disposition; Action comprehension; Psychological reasoning
Recent research on infants’ responses to occlusion and containment events indicates that, although some violations of the continuity principle are detected at an early age e.g. Aguiar, A., & Baillargeon, R. (1999). 2.5-month-old infants’ reasoning about when objects should and should not be occluded. Cognitive Psychology 39, 116–157; Hesposs, S. J., & Baillargeon, R. (2001). Knowledge about containment events in very young infants. Cognition 78, 207–245; Luo, Y., & Baillargeon, R. (in press). When the ordinary seems unexpected: Evidence for rule-based reasoning in young infants. Cognition; Wilcox, T., Nadel, L., & Rosser, R. (1996). Location memory in healthy preterm and full-term infants. Infant Behavior & Development 19, 309–323, others are not detected until much later e.g. Baillargeon, R., & DeVos, J. (1991). Object permanence in young infants: Further evidence. Child Development 62, 1227–1246; Hespos, S. J., & Baillargeon, R. (2001). Infants’ knowledge about occlusion and containment events: A surprising discrepancy. Psychological Science 12, 140–147; Luo, Y., & Baillargeon, R. (2004). Infants’ reasoning about events involving transparent occluders and containers. Manuscript in preparation; Wilcox, T. (1999). Object individuation: Infants’ use of shape, size, pattern, and color. Cognition 72, 125–166. The present research focused on events involving covers or tubes, and brought to light additional examples of early and late successes in infants’ ability to detect continuity violations. In Experiment 1, 2.5- to 3-month-old infants were surprised (1) when a cover was lowered over an object, slid to the right, and lifted to reveal no object; and (2) when a cover was lowered over an object, slid behind the left half of a screen, lifted above the screen, moved to the right, lowered behind the right half of the screen, slid past the screen, and finally lifted to reveal the object. In Experiments 2 and 3, 9- and 11-month-old infants were not surprised when a short cover was lowered over a tall object until it became fully hidden; only 12-month-old infants detected this violation. Finally, in Experiment 4, 9-, 12-, and 13-month-old infants were not surprised when a tall object was lowered inside a short tube until it became fully hidden; only 14-month-old infants detected this violation. A new account of infants’ physical reasoning attempts to make sense of all of these results. New research directions suggested by the account are also discussed.
Physical reasoning in infancy; Continuity violations; Event categories
Until recently, it was generally assumed that the ability to attribute false beliefs did not emerge until about 4 years of age. However, recent reports using spontaneous- as opposed to elicited-response tasks have suggested that this ability may be present much earlier. To date, researchers have employed two kinds of spontaneous-response false-belief tasks: violation-of-expectation tasks have been used with infants in the second year of life, and anticipatory-looking tasks have been used with toddlers in the third year of life. In the present research, 2.5-year-old toddlers were tested in violation-of-expectation tasks involving a change-of-location situation (Experiment 1) and an unexpected-contents situation (Experiment 2). Results were positive in both situations, providing the first demonstrations of false-belief understanding in toddlers using violation-of-expectation tasks and, as such, pointing to a consistent and continuous picture of early false-belief understanding.
Some researchers have suggested that infants’ ability to reason about goals develops as a result of their experiences with human agents and is then gradually extended to other agents. Other researchers have proposed that goal attribution is rooted in a specialized system of reasoning that is activated whenever infants encounter entities with appropriate features (e.g., self-propulsion). The first view predicts that young infants should attribute goals to human but not other agents; the second view predicts that young infants should attribute goals to both human and nonhuman agents. The present research revealed that 5-month-old infants (the youngest found thus far to attribute goals to human agents) also attribute goals to nonhuman agents. In two experiments, infants interpreted the actions of a self-propelled box as goal-directed. These results provide support for the view that from an early age, infants attribute goals to any entity they identify as an agent.
There is increasing evidence that infants’ representations of physical events can be enhanced through appropriate experiences in the laboratory. Most of this research has involved administering infants multiple training trials, often with multiple objects. In the present research, 8-month-olds were induced to detect a physical violation in a single trial. The experiments built on previous evidence that for occlusion events, infants encode height information at about age 3.5 months, but for covering events, they encode height information only at about age 12 months. In two experiments, a short cover was first placed in front of a short or a tall object (occlusion event); next, the cover was lowered over the tall object until it became fully hidden (covering event). Exposure to the occlusion event (but not other events in which height information was not encoded) enabled the infants to detect the violation in the covering event, much earlier than they would have otherwise.
According to a recent account of infants’ acquisition of their physical knowledge, the incremental-knowledge account, infants form distinct event categories, such as occlusion, containment, support, and collision events. In each category, infants identify one or more vectors which correspond to distinct problems that must be solved. For each vector, infants acquire a sequence of variables that enables them to predict outcomes within the vector more and more accurately over time. This account predicts that infants who have acquired only a few of the variables in a sequence should err in two ways in violation-of-expectation tasks: (1) they should view impossible events consistent with their incomplete knowledge as expected (errors of omission), and (2) they should view possible events inconsistent with their incomplete knowledge as unexpected (errors of commission). Many reports have shown that infants who have not yet identified a variable in an event category produce errors of omission: they fail to view impossible events involving the variable as unexpected. However, there has been no report revealing errors of commission in infants’ responses to possible events. The present research examined whether 3- and 2.5-month-old infants, whose knowledge of occlusion events is very limited, would produce errors of commission as well as errors of omission when responding to these events. At 3 months of age, infants viewed as unexpected a possible event in which a tall cylinder became visible when passing behind a tall screen with a very large opening extending from its upper edge. At 2.5 months, infants viewed as unexpected a possible event in which a tall cylinder became visible when passing behind a tall screen with a very large opening extending from its lower edge. These findings provide a new kind of evidence for the incremental-knowledge account, and more generally for the notion that infants, like older children and adults, engage in rule-based reasoning about physical events.
Rule-based reasoning in infancy; Occlusion events; Errors of omission and commission