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Cogn Psychol. 2008 Nov;57(3):262-91. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2008.02.003. Epub 2008 Jun 13.

The origins of causal perception: evidence from postdictive processing in infancy.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Yale University, Box 208205, New Haven, CT 06520-8205, USA.


The currency of our visual experience consists not only of visual features such as color and motion, but also seemingly higher-level features such as causality--as when we see two billiard balls collide, with one causing the other to move. One of the most important and controversial questions about causal perception involves its origin: do we learn to see causality, or does this ability derive in part from innately specified aspects of our cognitive architecture? Such questions are difficult to answer, but can be indirectly addressed via experiments with infants. Here we explore causal perception in 7-month-old infants, using a different approach from previous work. Recent work in adult visual cognition has demonstrated a postdictive aspect to causal perception: in certain situations, we can perceive a collision between two objects in an ambiguous display even after the moment of potential 'impact' has already passed. This illustrates one way in which our conscious perception of the world is not an instantaneous moment-by-moment construction, but rather is formed by integrating information over short temporal windows. Here we demonstrate analogous postdictive processing in infants' causal perception. This result demonstrates that even infants' visual systems process information in temporally extended chunks. Moreover, this work provides a new way of demonstrating causal perception in infants that differs from previous strategies, and is immune to some previous types of critiques.

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