What is Cognitive Science

Infants Understanding of Others' Actions

Kristine H Onishi

Thursday, February 27, 2003, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Psychology

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Infants Understanding of Others' Actions
Feb 27 Kristine H Onishi (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Psychology)

Abstract:

How do infants come to understand and predict the behavior of others? Two lines of research will be described: the first on infants' reasoning about others' goals, and the second on infants' reasoning about others' beliefs.

The first line of experiments examined 10.5- and 14-month-old infants' understanding of others' actions using variations of the paradigm developed by Woodward (1998). The results of these experiments suggest the following conclusions. At 10.5 months of age, infants can encode an actor's goal object (1) even when the actor uses several different means to retrieve the object during the familiarization trials; and (2) even when the object remains hidden throughout the familiarization and test trials. At 14 months of age, infants have some difficulty keeping track of the goal objects of two different actors, but can do so when helped to encode the appropriate goal information.

The second line of experiments focused on 15.5-month-old infants' ability to reason about an actor's behavior when the actor is in a counterfactual (false belief) or fictional (pretense) situation. The results of these experiments suggest that infants already possess a representational theory of mind: they understand that others act in accord with beliefs, and that these beliefs are representations that may or may not reflect reality. Infants correctly predict where an actor should search for a hidden toy in both the true- and false-belief situations. Infants are also able to detect inconsistencies in an actor's behavior when the actor is merely pretending rather than actually drinking from a cup.

Together, these results extend our understanding of the conditions under which infants predict others' actions, and of the mental states they may invoke to do so.

Kristine H Onishi


"What is Cognitive Science?"

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