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Infants draw on past to interpret present, understand other people's behavior
Date:1/22/2009

The old real estate maxim "location, location, location" also plays a role in how infants learn to understand the ambiguous actions and behavior of other people.

University of Washington psychologists have learned that 10-month-old infants use their prior exposure and understanding of familiar actions by a person to unravel novel actions. However, this ability is limited by the location in which the new action is performed.

"Infants' understanding of and exposure to familiar actions can boost their understanding of ambiguous action sequences. Their ability to draw on the past to interpret the present represents an important advance in their developing understanding of other people's behavior," said Jessica Sommerville, a UW assistant professor of psychology who is also affiliated with the university's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

Although the research was conducted on infants, she believes the findings apply across all ages.

"Providing advance information about the ultimate goal or objective of what you are trying to teach before delivering the actual content helps people learn. College instructors and school teachers are often instructed to highlight the goal of a lecture, course or lesson in advance to facilitate learning. Our work demonstrates that this phenomenon is present in infancy. Advance information about an individual's goals helps infants understand and learn from another person's actions within the first year of life."

UW researchers conducted two experiments to test how well infants can use prior information.

In the first, 48 typically developing infants took part in a two-phase experiment. During the first phase, infants received information about which of two objects a research assistant desired. Across five trials, infants consistently saw the assistant reach for, grasp and pick up one of two plastic toys ( a green frog or a red fish) while saying "Wow!" For the second
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Contact: Joel Schwarz
joels@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

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