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Infants' individuation of agents and inert objects


Luca Surian, Department of Cognitive Sciences, University of Trento, Corso Bettini, 31, 38068 Rovereto (Trento), Italy; e-mail:


Using the violation-of-expectancy method, we investigated 10-month-old infants’ ability to rely on dynamic features in object individuation processes. Infants were first familiarized to events in which two different objects repeatedly appeared and disappeared, one at a time from behind a screen; at test, the screen was removed, revealing either one or two objects. In Experiment 1, one self-moving non-rigid agent and one inert object were involved in each trial, while in Experiment 2 two different agents were presented. Infants preferred to look at one-object outcomes in Experiment 1, but they did not show any preference for one- or two-object outcomes in Experiment 2. The results suggest that infants can use dynamic information to detect agents in complex individuation tasks before they can rely on shape or surface features. We propose that the sortals agent and inert object appear in development before 12 months without a substantial contribution of linguistic experience. These findings may motivate a revision of current theories on the development of kind-based individuation and object files.

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