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78.3 - Spring 2005
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> Spring 2005 > News

Infant Cognition: Recognizing and Reasoning
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By Altaf Saadi

Do 5-month-old infants see humans as material objects? According to a recent study, the answer is no. Conducted by Paul Bloom and Karen Wynn, professors of psychology at Yale, and corresponding author Valerie Kuhlmeier, assistant professor of psychology at Queens University, the study proposes that infants have different expectations of inanimate and human objects and do not apply the constraints of continuous motion to people. As Wynn explains, “There is a fundamental distinction between basic original systems of how we interface with the world: one for inert objects and another for social, psychological entities.”

In this study, infants’ reasoning was associated with the length of time they looked at a certain scene after habituation by either a continuous or discontinuous motion video. A longer looking time would suggest that the motion in the scene was contrary to their expectations. When the object in the scene was a box, the infants’ expectations of its motion matched the habituation video they were shown. On the contrary, when the object in the scene was a human, the infants did not expect the same motion they were shown in the habituation video, suggesting that the infants knew otherwise.

An extension of this study will investigate how infants react to other constraints of object physics, such as that of solidity. The researchers are also working with Assistant Professor Laurie Santos of the Primate Cognition Lab to compare differential reasoning in nonhuman species. “We’re looking at what exactly an entity has to look like for infants to interpret behavior [in terms of having goals and intentions].  For example, these entities can be simple geometric, computer-animated objects, but they seem to have to move in certain ways or, in some cases, have a face, for infants to see them as intentional,” explained Kuhlmeier.

To test infants’ sensitivity to the motion of continuous movement.
To test infants’ sensitivity to the motion of continuous movement. (Credit:


Kuhlmeier, Valerie A., Bloom, Paul & Wynn, Karen (2004). Do 5-month-old infants see humans as material objects? Cognition. 94, (1), 95-103.
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