Infants’ attribution of a goal to a morphologically unfamiliar agent

Authors

  • Y. Alpha Shimizu,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, Stanford University, USA
      Department of Psychology, Jordan Hall, Building 420, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA; e-mail: yalpha@stanford.edu or scj@psych.stanford.edu
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  • Susan C. Johnson

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, Stanford University, USA
      Department of Psychology, Jordan Hall, Building 420, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA; e-mail: yalpha@stanford.edu or scj@psych.stanford.edu
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Department of Psychology, Jordan Hall, Building 420, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA; e-mail: yalpha@stanford.edu or scj@psych.stanford.edu

Abstract

How do infants identify the psychological actors in their environments? Three groups of 12-month-old infants were tested for their willingness to encode a simple approach behavior as goal-directed as a function of whether it was performed by (1) a human hand, (2) a morphologically unfamiliar green object that interacted with a confederate and behaved intentionally, or (3) the same unfamiliar green object that behaved in a matched, but apparently random manner. Using a visual habituation technique, only infants in the first two conditions were found to encode the approach behavior as goal-directed. Thus infants appear able to attribute goals to non-human, even unfamiliar agents. These results imply that by the end of the first year of life infants have a broad notion of what counts as an agent that cannot easily be reduced to humans, objects that are perceptually similar to humans, or objects that display self-propulsion.

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