Can a self-propelled box have a goal? Psychological reasoning in 5-month-old infants

Psychol Sci. 2005 Aug;16(8):601-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01582.x.


Some researchers have suggested that infants' ability to reason about goals develops as a result of their experiences with human agents and is then gradually extended to other agents. Other researchers have proposed that goal attribution is rooted in a specialized system of reasoning that is activated whenever infants encounter entities with appropriate features (e.g., self-propulsion). The first view predicts that young infants should attribute goals to human but not other agents; the second view predicts that young infants should attribute goals to both human and nonhuman agents. The present research revealed that 5-month-old infants (the youngest found thus far to attribute goals to human agents) also attribute goals to nonhuman agents. In two experiments, infants interpreted the actions of a self-propelled box as goal-directed. These results provide support for the view that from an early age, infants attribute goals to any entity they identify as an agent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Psychology, Child / methods
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Time Factors