10 - Prepared to learn about human bodies’ goals and intentions  pp. 193-206

Prepared to learn about human bodies’ goals and intentions

By Teodora Gliga and Victoria Southgate

Image View Previous Chapter Next Chapter



Human beings are one of the first and one of the most frequent ‘objects’ in infants’ environment. Infants’ interactions with their caregivers are extremely diverse and socially rich. Caregivers provide care, affection and knowledge. It therefore seems trivial to assume that one of the first things human infants will learn is how to identify their conspecifics. The first section of this chapter reviews a series of studies that contradict the above intuition. Experimental research presented in this section has shown that infants, prodigiously good at learning about faces, are slow at learning about the human body appearance. A few explanations have been put forward to integrate these conflicting findings. Faces and bodies are similar in many respects (e.g. they have component parts whose relative position is species-specific; minor variations in the distance between these components occur between individuals) but also different in others (e.g. body parts movement leads to ampler structural changes than face component movements and these movements are often object-oriented). Thus, because movement changes the outline of bodies it may be more difficult to build a prototype of the human body than of the human face. Alternatively it could be that body movement, particularly the goals of human action, grab infants’ attention, at the expense of learning about body structure. It has been proposed that infants’ learning about the structure of the human face is secondary to their learning about facial communicative cues like eye-contact and eye-gaze (Gliga and Csibra, 2007). In the second section we will review evidence in support of a similar developmental story for acquiring knowledge about body structure. We will show that, before acquiring precise knowledge on humans’ appearance, infants are proficient at understanding and anticipating human (body) action. This attentional bias is driven by their need to learn from others, which requires understanding other people’s goals and intentions. The final section will attempt to integrate these two lines of research. We will propose that the principles infants use to understand the goals of human actions can also be used to learn about which bodily actions are possible and which are not, and eventually about human body structure. We will bring arguments to support this view from both developmental and adult cognitive neuropsychology.

Baldwin, D.  A.2004Is the asymmetry in young infants’ categorization of humans versus nonhuman animals based on head, body or global gestalt information?Psychonomic Bulletin and Review1192
Baldwin, D.  A.Baird, J.  A.Saylor, M.  M.Clark, M.  A.2001Infants parse dynamic actionChild Development72708
Bekkering, H.Wohlschlager, A.Gattis, M.2000Imitation of gestures in children is goal-directedQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology53153
Bertenthal, B. I.1996Origins and early development of perception, action, and representationAnnual Review of Psychology47431
Bhatt, R. S.Bertin, E.Hayden, A.Reed, A.2005Face processing in infancy: Developmental changes in the use of diferent kinds of relational informationChild Development76169
Biro, S.Leslie, A. M.2007Infants’ perception of goal-directed actions: Development through cue-based bootstrappingDevelopmental Science10379
Blake, R.Shiffrar, M.2007Perception of human motionAnnual Review of Psychology5847
Call, J.Carpenter, M.Tomasello, M.2005Copying results and copying actions in the process of social learning: Chimpanzees (pan troglodytes) and human children (homo sapiens)Animal Cognition8151
Carmel, D.Bentin, S.2002Domain specificity versus expertise: Factors influencing distinct processing of facesCognition831
Costantini, M.Committeri, G.Galati, G.2008Effector- and target-independent representation of observed actions: Evidence from incidental repetition primingExperimental Brain Research188341
Csibra, G.Biro, S.Koos, O.Gergely, G.2003One-year-old infants use teleological representations of actions productivelyCognitive Science27111
Csibra, G.Gergely, G.2007‘Obsessed with goals’: Functions and mechanisms of teleological interpretation of actions in humansActa Psychologica (Amsterdam)12460
Falck-Ytter, T.Gredeback, G.von Hofsten, C.2006Infants predict other people’s action goalsNature Neuroscience9878
Funk, M.Shiffrar, M.Brugger, P.2005Hand movement observation by individuals born without hands: Phantom limb experience constrains visual limb perceptionExperimental Brain Research164341
Gergely, G.Csibra, G.2003Teleological reasoning in infancy: The naive theory of rational actionTrends in Cognitive Sciences7287
Gergely, G.Nadasdy, Z.Csibra, G.Biro, S.1995Taking the intentional stance at 12 months of ageCognition56165
Gliga, T.Csibra, G.2007Seeing the face through the eyes: A developmental perspective on face expertiseProgress in Brain Research164323
Gliga, T.Dehaene-Lambertz, G.2005Structural encoding of body and face in human infants and adultsJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience171,328
Halit, H.de Haan, M.Johnson, M. H.2003Cortical specialisation for face processing: Face-sensitive event-related potential components in 3- and 12-month-old infantsNeuroimage191,180
Hill, H.Johnston, A.2001Categorizing sex and identity from biological motion of facesCurrent Biology11880
Kiraly, I.Jovanovic, B.Prinz, W.Aschersleben, G.Gergely, G.2003The early origins of goal attribution in infancyConsciousness and Cognition12752
Maurer, D.Barrera, M.1981Infants’ perception and distorted arrangements of a schematic faceChild Development52196
Perone, S.Madole, K. L.Ross-Sheehy, S.Carey, M.Oakes, L. M.2008The relation between infants’ activity with objects and attention to object appearanceDevelopmental Psychology441,242
Perone, S.Oakes, L. M.2006It clicks when it is rolled and it squeaks when it is squeezed: What 10-month-old infants learn about object functionChild Development771,608
Quinn, P. C.1987The categorical representation of visual pattern information by young infantsCognition27145
Reed, C. L.Stone, V. E.Bozova, S.Tanaka, J.2003The body-inversion effectPsychological Science14302
Reid, V. M.Csibra, G.Belsky, J.Johnson, M. H.2007Neural correlates of the perception of goal-directed action in infantsActa Psychologica124129
Saxe, R.Tenenbaum, J. B.Carey, S.2005Secret agents: Inferences about hidden causes by 10- and 12-month-old infantsPsychological Science16995
Saxe, R.Tzelnic, T.Carey, S.2007Knowing who dunnit: Infants identify the causal agent in an unseen causal interactionDevelopmental Psychology43149
Saylor, M. M.Ganea, P.2007Infants interpret ambiguous requests for absent objectsDevelopmental Psychology43696
Simion, F.Regolin, L.Bulf, H.2008A predisposition for biological motion in the newborn babyProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA105809
Slaughter, V.Heron, M.2004Origins and early development of human body knowledgeMonographs of the Society for Research in Child Development69
Slaughter, V.Heron, M.Sim, S.2002Development of preferences for the human body shape in infancyCognition85B71
Sommerville, J. A.Woodward, A. L.2005Pulling out the intentional structure of action: The relation between action processing and action production in infancyCognition951
Sommerville, J. A.Woodward, A. L.Needham, A.2005Action experience alters 3-month-old infants’ perception of others’ actionsCognition96B1
Southgate, V.Johnson, M. H.Csibra, G.2008Infants attribute goals even to biomechanically impossible actionsCognition1071,059
Southgate, V.Johnson, M. H.El Karoui, I.Csibra, G.2010Motor system activation reveals infants’ on-line prediction of others’ goalsPsychological Science21355
Stekelenburg, J. J.de Gelder, B.2004The neural correlates of perceiving human bodies: An ERP study on the body-inversion effectNeuroreport15777
Stevens, J. A.Fonlupt, P.Shiffrar, M.Decety, J.1999New aspects of motion perception: Selective neural encoding of apparent human movementsNeuroreport11109
Taylor, J. C.Wiggett, A. J.Downing, P. E.2007Functional MRI analysis of body and body part representations in the extrastriate and fusiform body areasJournal of Neurophysiology981,626
Woodward, A. L.Sommerville, J. A.Guajardo, J. J.2001How infants make sense of intentional actionB. MalleL. J. MosesD. A. BaldwinIntentions and Intentionality: Foundations of Social CognitionCambridge, MAMIT Press
Wynn, K.1996Infants’ individuation and enumeration of actionsPsychological Science7164
Younger, B. A.Cohen, L. B.1986Developmental changes in infants’perception of correlations among attributesChild Development57803
Zacks, J.Tversky, B.Iyer, G.2001Perceiving, remembering, and communicating structure in eventsJournal of Experimental Psychology: General13029