The Choice Is Yours: Infants’ Expectations About an Agent’s Future Behavior Based on Taking and Receiving Actions

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Our social world is rich with information about other people’s choices, which subsequently inform our inferences about their future behavior. For individuals socialized within the American cultural context, which places a high value on autonomy and independence, outcomes that are the result of an agent’s own choices may hold more predictive value than similar outcomes that are the result of another person’s choices. Across two experiments we test the ontogeny of this phenomenon; that is, whether infants are sensitive to the causal history associated with an agent’s acquisition of an object. We demonstrate that on average, 12.5-month-old American infants view taking actions as a better indication of an agent’s future behavior than are receiving actions. Furthermore, there were significant individual differences in the extent to which infants perceived object receipt to be indicative of future behavior. Specifically, the less autonomous infants were perceived to be (by their parents), socialized to be, and behaved, the more they viewed object receipt as indicative of future behavior. The results are discussed in terms of the role of individual and cultural experience in early understanding of intentional action.

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