Monday, July 26, 2021

Stable individual differences in infants’ responses to violations of intuitive physics

Interesting observations by Perez and Feigenson:
Infants look longer at impossible or unlikely events than at possible events. While these responses to expectancy violations have been critical for understanding early cognition, interpreting them is challenging because infants’ responses are highly variable. This variability has been treated as an unavoidable nuisance inherent to infant research. Here we asked whether the variability contains signal in addition to noise: namely, whether some infants show consistently stronger responses to expectancy violations than others. Infants watched two unrelated physical events 6 mo apart; these events culminated in either an impossible or an expected outcome. We found that infants who exhibited the strongest looking response to an impossible event at 11 mo also exhibited the strongest response to an entirely different impossible event at 17 mo. Furthermore, violation-of-expectation responses in infancy predicted children’s explanation-based curiosity at 3 y old. In contrast, there was no longitudinal relation between infants’ responses to events with expected outcomes at 11 and 17 mo, nor any link with later curiosity; hence, infants’ responses do not merely reflect individual differences in attention but are specific to expectancy violations. Some children are better than others at detecting prediction errors—a trait that may be linked to later cognitive abilities.

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