Action anticipation in human infants reveals assumptions about anteroposterior body-structure and action

TitleAction anticipation in human infants reveals assumptions about anteroposterior body-structure and action
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsHernik, M., R. M. P. Fearon, and G. Csibra
Journal titleProceedings of the Royal Society, London B
Year2014
Pages20133205
Volume281
Issue1781
Abstract

Animal actions are almost universally constrained by the bilateral body-plan. For example, the direction of travel tends to be constrained by the orientation of the animal’s anteroposterior axis. Hence, an animal’s behaviour can reliably guide the identification of its front and back, and its orientation can reliably guide action prediction. We examine the hypothesis that the evolutionarily ancient relation between anteroposterior body-structure and behaviour guides our cognitive processing of agents and their actions. In a series of studies we demonstrate that, after limited exposure, human infants as young as 6 months of age spontaneously encode a novel agent as having a certain axial direction with respect to its actions, and rely on it when anticipating the agent’s further behaviour. We found that such encoding is restricted to objects exhibiting cues of agency, and does not depend on generalization from features of familiar animals. Our research offers a new tool for investigating the perception of animate agency and supports the proposal that the underlying cognitive mechanisms have been shaped by basic biological adaptations in humans.

LanguageEnglish
DOI10.1098/rspb.2013.3205
Publisher linkhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2013.3205
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