Explanation-based learning in infancy

Renée Baillargeon, Gerald F. DeJong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In explanation-based learning (EBL), domain knowledge is leveraged in order to learn general rules from few examples. An explanation is constructed for initial exemplars and is then generalized into a candidate rule that uses only the relevant features specified in the explanation; if the rule proves accurate for a few additional exemplars, it is adopted. EBL is thus highly efficient because it combines both analytic and empirical evidence. EBL has been proposed as one of the mechanisms that help infants acquire and revise their physical rules. To evaluate this proposal, 11- and 12-month-olds (n = 260) were taught to replace their current support rule (that an object is stable when half or more of its bottom surface is supported) with a more sophisticated rule (that an object is stable when half or more of the entire object is supported). Infants saw teaching events in which asymmetrical objects were placed on a base, followed by static test displays involving a novel asymmetrical object and a novel base. When the teaching events were designed to facilitate EBL, infants learned the new rule with as few as two (12-month-olds) or three (11-month-olds) exemplars. When the teaching events were designed to impede EBL, however, infants failed to learn the rule. Together, these results demonstrate that even infants, with their limited knowledge about the world, benefit from the knowledge-based approach of EBL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1511-1526
Number of pages16
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Explanation-based learning
  • Infant cognition
  • Knowledge acquisition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Explanation-based learning in infancy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this