When the ordinary seems unexpected: Evidence for incremental physical knowledge in young infants

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

According to a recent account of infants' acquisition of their physical knowledge, the incremental-knowledge account, infants form distinct event categories, such as occlusion, containment, support, and collision events. In each category, infants identify one or more vectors which correspond to distinct problems that must be solved. For each vector, infants acquire a sequence of variables that enables them to predict outcomes within the vector more and more accurately over time. This account predicts that infants who have acquired only a few of the variables in a sequence should err in two ways in violation-of-expectation tasks: (1) they should view impossible events consistent with their incomplete knowledge as expected (errors of omission), and (2) they should view possible events inconsistent with their incomplete knowledge as unexpected (errors of commission). Many reports have shown that infants who have not yet identified a variable in an event category produce errors of omission: they fail to view impossible events involving the variable as unexpected. However, there has been no report revealing errors of commission in infants' responses to possible events. The present research examined whether 3- and 2.5-month-old infants, whose knowledge of occlusion events is very limited, would produce errors of commission as well as errors of omission when responding to these events. At 3 months of age, infants viewed as unexpected a possible event in which a tall cylinder became visible when passing behind a tall screen with a very large opening extending from its upper edge. At 2.5 months, infants viewed as unexpected a possible event in which a tall cylinder became visible when passing behind a tall screen with a very large opening extending from its lower edge. These findings provide a new kind of evidence for the incremental-knowledge account, and more generally for the notion that infants, like older children and adults, engage in rule-based reasoning about physical events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-328
Number of pages32
JournalCognition
Volume95
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2005

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Keywords

  • Errors of omission and commission
  • Occlusion events
  • Rule-based reasoning in infancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

Cite this

When the ordinary seems unexpected : Evidence for incremental physical knowledge in young infants. / Luo, Yuyan; Baillargeon, Renee L.

In: Cognition, Vol. 95, No. 3, 04.2005, p. 297-328.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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