How to Help Best: Infants’ Changing Understanding of Multistep Actions Informs their Evaluations of Helping

AbstractResearch beginning with Piaget reveals a change in infants’ understanding of multistep, means-end action sequences: Whereas 12-month-old infants reason that (e.g.) one opens a box to access its contents, younger infants are more likely to reason that one’s goal is simply to open the box. Here we explore the implications of this developmental change in infants’ action understanding for infants’ social evaluations. Using a puppet show paradigm, we examined infants’ evaluations of two agents who helped another agent to achieve either the end or the means of a means-end sequence, both before and after 12 months of age. In a subsequent preference test, 15-month-old infants reached for an End-Helper over a Means-Helper, whereas 8-month-old infants did the reverse. These findings link infants’ evaluation of helpers to their representations of action plans, consistent with recent computational models of naïve psychology.

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