Infant perception of causal motion produced by humans and inanimate objects

Image credit: Infant Behavior and Development


Both the movements of people and inanimate objects are intimately bound up with physical causality. Furthermore, in contrast to object movements, causal relationships between limb movements controlled by humans and their body displacements uniquely reflect agency and goal-directed actions in support of social causality. To investigate the development of sensitivity to causal movements, we examined the looking behavior of infants between 9 and 18 months of age when viewing movements of humans and objects. We also investigated whether individual differences in gender and gross motor functions may impact the development of the visual preferences for causal movements. In Experiment 1, infants were presented with walking stimuli showing either normal body translation or a “moonwalk” that reversed the horizontal motion of body translations. In Experiment 2, infants were presented with unperformable actions beyond infants’ gross motor functions (i.e., long jump) either with or without ecologically valid body displacement. In Experiment 3, infants were presented with rolling movements of inanimate objects that either complied with or violated physical causality. We found that female infants showed longer looking times to normal walking stimuli than to moonwalk stimuli, but did not differ in their looking time to movements of inanimate objects and unperformable actions. In contrast, male infants did not show sensitivity to causal movement for either category. Additionally, female infants looked longer at social stimuli of human actions than male infants. Under the tested circumstances, our findings indicate that female infants have developed a sensitivity to causal consistency between limb movements and body translations of biological motion, only for actions with previous visual and motor exposures, and demonstrate a preference toward social information.

Infant Behavior and Development, 64, 101615
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Yujia Peng
Yujia Peng
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Yujia Peng is an assistant professor at the School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University.