Five-month-old infants attribute inferences based on general knowledge to agents

Fransisca Ting, Zijing He, Renée Baillargeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To make sense of others’ actions, we generally consider what information is available to them. This information may come from different sources, including perception and inference. Like adults, young infants track what information agents can obtain through perception: If an agent directly observes an event, for example, young infants expect the agent to have information about it. However, no investigation has yet examined whether young infants also track what information agents can obtain through inference, by bringing to bear relevant general knowledge. Building on the finding that by 4 months of age most infants have acquired the physical rule that wide objects can fit into wide containers but not narrow containers, we asked whether 5-month-olds would expect an agent who was searching for a wide toy hidden in her absence to reach for a wide box as opposed to a narrow box. Infants looked significantly longer when the agent selected the narrow box, suggesting that they expected her (a) to share the physical knowledge that wide objects can fit only into wide containers and (b) to infer that the wide toy must be hidden in the wide box. Three additional conditions supported this interpretation. Together, these results cast doubt on two-system accounts of early psychological reasoning, which claim that infants’ early-developing system is too inflexible and encapsulated to integrate inputs from other cognitive processes, such as physical reasoning. Instead, the results support one-system accounts and provide new evidence that young infants’ burgeoning psychological-reasoning system is qualitatively similar to that of older children and adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105126
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Infancy
  • Inference
  • Knowledge
  • Preference
  • Theory of mind
  • Two-system accounts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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