The development of calibration-based reasoning about collision events in young infants

Laura Kotovsky, Renée Baillargeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Previous research indicates that, when shown a collision between a moving and a stationary object, 11-month-old infants believe that the size of the moving object affects how far the stationary object is displaced. The present experiments examined whether 6.5- and 5.5-month-old infants hold the same belief. The infants sat in front of a horizontal track; to the left of the track was an inclined ramp. A wheeled toy bug rested on the track at the bottom of the ramp. The infants were habituated to an event in which a medium-size cylinder rolled down the ramp and hit the bug, propelling it to the middle of the track. Next, the infants saw two test events in which novel cylinders propelled the bug to the end of the track. The two novel cylinders were identical to the habituation cylinder in material but not in size: one was larger (large-cylinder event) and one was smaller (small-cylinder event) than the habituation cylinder. The 6.5-month-old infants, and the 5.5-month-old female infants, looked reliably longer at the small- than at the large-cylinder event. These and control results indicated that the infants (a) believed that the size of the cylinder affected the length of the bug's trajectory and (b) used the habituation event to calibrate their predictions about the test events. Unlike the other infants, the 5.5-month-old male infants tended to look equally at the small- and large-cylinder events. Further results indicated that this negative finding was not due to the infants' (a) failure to remember how far the bug rolled in the habituation event or (b) inability to use the habituation event to calibrate predictions about novel test events. Together, the present results suggest the following conclusions. First, when shown a collision between a moving and a stationary object, infants aged 5.5-6.5 months (a) believe that there is a proportional relation between the size of the moving object and the distance traveled by the stationary object and (b) can engage in calibration-based reasoning about this size/distance relation. Second, female infants precede males by a few weeks in this development, for reasons that may be related to sex differences in the maturation of depth perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-351
Number of pages41
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 15 1998


  • Calibration-based reasoning
  • Collision events
  • Infants
  • Physical knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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