'Obsessed with goals': Functions and mechanisms of teleological interpretation of actions in humans

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229 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Humans show a strong and early inclination to interpret observed behaviours of others as goal-directed actions. We identify two main epistemic functions that this 'teleological obsession' serves: on-line prediction and social learning. We show how teleological action interpretations can serve these functions by drawing on two kinds of inference ('action-to-goal' or 'goal-to-action'), and argue that both types of teleological inference constitute inverse problems that can only be solved by further assumptions. We pinpoint the assumptions that the three currently proposed mechanisms of goal attribution (action-effect associations, simulation procedures, and teleological reasoning) imply, and contrast them with the functions they are supposed to fulfil. We argue that while action-effect associations and simulation procedures are generally well suited to serve on-line action monitoring and prediction, social learning of new means actions and artefact functions requires the inferential productivity of teleological reasoning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-78
Number of pages19
JournalActa Psychologica
Volume124
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2007

Keywords

  • Goal attribution
  • Infancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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