Action anticipation in human infants reveals assumptions about anteroposterior body-structure and action

Mikołaj Hernik, Pasco Fearon, Gergely Csibra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Citations (Scopus)


Animal actions are almost universally constrained by the bilateral body-plan. For example, the direction of travel tends to be constrained by the orientation of the animal's anteroposterior axis. Hence, an animal's behaviour can reliably guide the identification of its front and back, and its orientation can reliably guide action prediction. We examine the hypothesis that the evolutionarily ancient relation between anteroposterior body-structure and behaviour guides our cognitive processing of agents and their actions. In a series of studies, we demonstrate that, after limited exposure, human infants as young as six months of age spontaneously encode a novel agent as having a certain axial direction with respect to its actions and rely on it when anticipating the agent's further behaviour. We found that such encoding is restricted to objects exhibiting cues of agency and does not depend on generalization from features of familiar animals. Our research offers a new tool for investigating the perception of animate agency and supports the proposal that the underlying cognitive mechanisms have been shaped by basic biological adaptations in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20133205
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1781
Publication statusPublished - Feb 26 2014


  • Action anticipation
  • Animate agency
  • Anteroposterior body-structure
  • Infancy
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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