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Cognition. 2005 Feb;95(1):1-30.

Pulling out the intentional structure of action: the relation between action processing and action production in infancy.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington, Campus Box 357988, Seattle, WA 98195-7988, USA.


Adults and children readily construct action representations organized with respect to an ultimate goal. These representations allow one to predict the consequences of action, interpret and describe actions, and categorize action sequences. In this paper, we explore the ontogeny of hierarchically organized action representations, and its relation to infants' ability to produce similar sequences. To do so, we examine infants' perception and performance of a means-end sequence: pulling a cloth to retrieve a toy. Using a visual habituation paradigm, we demonstrate that 12-month-old infants understand that the initial step of the cloth-pulling sequence is directed toward the ultimate goal of attaining the toy, and use their knowledge of the causal constraints of the sequence to make this goal attribution. Ten-month-olds, however, appear transitional with respect to this understanding: their ability to identify the goal of the cloth-pulling sequence is related to their own ability to planfully solve a similar sequence. These findings are consistent with a burgeoning body of literature suggesting an intimate link between action production and perception, and suggest that this link is in place by at least 10 months of age.

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