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Cognition. 2008 May;107(2):705-17. Epub 2007 Sep 14.

Goal attribution to inanimate agents by 6.5-month-old infants.

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  • 1School of Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, United Kingdom. g.csibra@bbk.ac.uk

Abstract

Human infants' tendency to attribute goals to observed actions may help us to understand where people's obsession with goals originates from. While one-year-old infants liberally interpret the behaviour of many kinds of agents as goal-directed, a recent report [Kamewari, K., Kato, M., Kanda, T., Ishiguro, H., & Hiraki, K. (2005). Six-and-a-half-month-old children positively attribute goals to human action and to humanoid-robot motion. Cognitive Development, 20, 303-320] suggested that younger infants restrict goal attribution to humans and human-like creatures. The present experiment tested whether 6.5-month-old infants would be willing to attribute a goal to a moving inanimate box if it slightly varied its goal approach within the range of the available efficient actions. The results were positive, demonstrating that featural identification of agents is not a necessary precondition of goal attribution in young infants and that the single most important behavioural cue for identifying a goal-directed agent is variability of behaviour. This result supports the view that the bias to give teleological interpretation to actions is not entirely derived from infants' experience.

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