Think you’ve fooled your kid? Think again

January 29th, 2009 - 3:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 29 (IANS) By 10 months, infants, just like adults, are able to understand goals and intentions, even when those goals are not obvious, according to a new study.Earlier research indicates that older infants (between 15 and 18 months) are able to separate goals and intentions from actions, but University of Michigan psychologists Amanda C. Brandone and Henry M. Wellman wanted to determine whether younger infants also have this ability.

These experiments took advantage of the fact that after infants are repeatedly shown the same event, they eventually become bored and look longer at something that is new or puzzling.

Researchers measured how long eight, 10 and 12-month-old infants watched a video. The first part of the video repeatedly depicted a man reaching over a barrier (making an arcing movement with his arm) to pick up a ball.

There were two versions - half the infants saw the man successfully pick up the ball and the rest of the infants saw the man miss the ball.

Once the infants were bored with the video, researchers showed them a new scene. This new scene was similar to the first, except that the barrier was missing.

Infants were shown two scenes; one scene showed the same man performing a direct action and reaching straight for the ball. In the other scene, the man performed an indirect (unnecessary) action and grabbed the ball by making an arcing movement, just as he did when the barrier was present.

If infants understood the first scene in terms of its goal (to successfully pick up the ball), then they should be puzzled by and look longer at something inconsistent with that goal (the unnecessary arcing motion).

Conversely, if the infants had viewed the first scene just in terms of its actions (arcing motion), then they should be interested in and look longer at the new action - the direct reaching motion, said a Michigan release.

All the infants who had watched the scene depicting a successful reach ended up looking longer at the indirect reaching event. However, out of all the infants who had seen the failed attempt scene (the man missing the ball), only the 10- and 12-month old infants looked longer at the indirect reaching event.

The results are described in the January issue of Psychological Science.

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