Encoding the goal of an object-directed but uncompleted reaching action in 6- and 9-month-old infants


Address for correspondence: Moritz M. Daum, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Department of Psychology, Stephanstrasse 1A, 04103 Leipzig, Germany; e-mail: moritz.daum@cbs.mpg.de


Infants start to interpret completed human actions as goal-directed in the second half of the first year of life. In a series of three studies, the understanding of a goal-directed but uncompleted action was investigated in 6- and 9-month-old infants using a preferential looking paradigm. Infants saw the video of an actor's reaching movement towards one of two objects. This reaching movement was only presented until the hand passed the midpoint between the starting position and the position of the target object. Subsequently, two final states of the reaching movement were presented simultaneously. In the plausible final state, the hand grasped the object to which the reaching movement was geared; in the implausible final state, the hand grasped the other object. In Studies 1 and 3, infants watched the actor from an allocentric perspective, and in Studies 2 and 3 from an egocentric perspective. Results indicate a discrimination of the two final states if the scene was presented from an allocentric perspective: both 6- and 9-month-olds looked longer at the implausible final state. This was not the case if infants saw the action from an egocentric perspective. The presented findings show that using this paradigm, 6-month-olds are already able to infer the goal of an uncompleted action without seeing the achievement of the goal itself. However, they encoded the goal of the reaching action only when it was presented from an allocentric perspective but not from an egocentric perspective.