Children's and adults' use of verbal information to visually anticipate others' actions: A study on explicit and implicit social-cognitive processing

Cognition. 2017 Mar;160:145-152. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2016.12.013. Epub 2017 Jan 12.


According to recent theories, social cognition is based on two different types of information-processing; an implicit or action-based one and an explicit or verbal one. The present study examined whether implicit and explicit social-cognitive information processing interact with each other by investigating young children's and adults' use of verbal (i.e., explicit) information to predict others' actions. Employing eye-tracking to measure anticipatory eye-movements as a measure of implicit processing, Experiment 1 presented 1.5-, 2.5-, and 3.5-year-old children as well as adults with agents who announced to move to either of two possible targets. The results show that only the 3.5-year-old children and adults, but not the 1.5- and 2.5-year-old children were able to use verbal information to correctly anticipate others' actions. Yet, Experiments 2 and 3 showed that 2.5-year-old children were able to use explicit information to give a correct explicit answer (Experiment 2) and that they were able to use statistical information to anticipate the other's actions (Experiment 3). Overall, the study is in line with theoretical claims that two types of information-processing underlie human social cognition. It shows that these two inform each other by 3years of age.

Keywords: Action understanding; Cognitive development; Cognitive processes; Eye-tracking; Social cognition.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological*
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Comprehension
  • Eye Movements
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Psychology, Child
  • Social Perception*
  • Speech Perception*
  • Visual Perception*
  • Young Adult