Infants’ Mental World: Seeing is Knowing (Part 2)

Infants’ Mental World: Seeing is Knowing (Part 2)

After the reliability of the looker was established, the infants completed the True-Belief Task in which they observed an experimenter playing with a red cup in a puppet theatre stage and then hid the cup in one of two box locations located on opposite sides of the stage – a yellow box or green box. The infant then witnessed several trials of the “looker” searching for the red cup in the location where she hid it and then observed a scene in which the cup moved from one side of the stage to the other by a hidden magnet inside the cup and underneath the stage; thus permitting the cup to move seemingly by itself. The experimenter followed the cup’s movement with her head and then tilted her head in the direction of the cup’s new location. The question was then whether the infants would expect the experimenter to search for the cup in the new location or in the old location before the cup was moved? Infants in this experiment would then watch as the looker would either search for the cup in the location that was ‘consistent’ or ‘inconsistent’ with her belief about where it was hidden. The infant’s eye gaze was recorded by video camera throughout the task so that researchers can refer back to how long the infant looked at each event.

Results from this study showed that infants in the “reliable looker” group of the search task looked longer when the experimenter searched for the cup in a location that was inconsistent with what she knew about where the cup was located. In other words, the infants were surprised when a reliable looker searched in the incorrect location for the cup. Infants in the ‘unreliable looker’ condition looked at both the consistent and inconsistent search for equal amounts of time. These findings suggest that 16 month old infants take into account past reliability of a looker when it comes to expectations on how the looker will act. In the instance of an unreliable looker it seems as though neither action was unexpected.

The results of this study suggest that infants reach important milestones in their second year of life in regards to understanding human behaviour. By 16 months of age, infants are sensitive to the belief states of others. The differences in results based on the reliability of the looker in the search task suggest that an infant’s reaction is due to more than just the idea that agents will simply look for something in the last place that they saw it. If this were true, the reliability of the looker should not have had an effect on the true-belief task. This research demonstrates that infants are able to determine when someone is unreliable and are capable of generalizing the knowledge across different experiences with that person.

Download the complete paper:
Effect of Lookers Past Reliability


About the Author:

Dr Chow is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private clinic in Saint-Laurent (Montreal) and in Saint-Lambert on the South Shore. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Concordia University. She is also a member of the Order of Psychologists of Quebec.