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Understanding Actions as Goal-Directed in Infancy

Szilvia Biro

Thursday, April 10, 2003, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Rutgers University, Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Science

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April 10


Szilvia Biro

Center for Cognitive Science, Rutgers University


When, how, and under what conditions infants start to interpret observed actions as goal-directed, that is, are able to understand that actions are performed to achieve an end state? Current theories are divided on whether this ability is based on the maturation of innate and/or modular systems or acquired through gradual experience with actions. Four visual familiarization studies using Woodward�s (1998) recently developed set-up were conducted with 6, 9 and 12 months old infants.  The first study investigated the role of infants� familiarity with the action in their goal attribution. The second and the third studies checked under what circumstances infants are willing to apply goal interpretation to inanimate actions. These studies tested whether certain motion characteristics of the actions or the presence of an object-directed effect of the action can facilitate encoding the goal of the inanimate action. Finally, the fourth study explored whether a short training in manipulating objects in an unfamiliar way prior to testing helps infants to interpret the same unfamiliar action as goal directed.

Szilvia Biro