Goal attribution to schematic animals: do 6-month-olds perceive biological motion as animate?


Anne Schlottmann, Division of Psychology & Language Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK; e-mail: a.schlottmann@ucl.ac.uk


Infants are sensitive to biological motion, but do they recognize it as animate? As a first step towards answering this question, two experiments investigated whether 6-month-olds selectively attribute goals to shapes moving like animals. We habituated infants to a square moving towards one of two targets. When target locations were switched, infants reacted more to movement towards a new goal than a new location – but only if the square moved non-rigidly and rhythmically, in a schematic version of bio-mechanical movement older observers describe as animal-like (Michotte, 1963). Goal attribution was specific to schematic animal motion: It did not occur if the square moved rigidly with the same rhythm as the animate stimulus, or if the square had the same amount of non-rigid deformation, but in an inanimate configuration. The data would seem to show that perception of schematic animal motion is linked to a system for psychological reasoning from infancy. This in turn suggests that 6-month-olds may already interpret biological motion as animate.