The early origins of goal attribution in infancy

Ildikó Király, Bianca Jovanovic, Wolfgang Prinz, Gisa Aschersleben, György Gergely

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

127 Citations (Scopus)


We contrast two positions concerning the initial domain of actions that infants interpret as goal-directed. The 'narrow scope' view holds that goal-attribution in 6- and 9-month-olds is restricted to highly familiar actions (such as grasping) (Woodward, Sommerville, & Guajardo, 2001). The cue-based approach of the infant's 'teleological stance' (Gergely & Csibra, 2003), however, predicts that if the cues of equifinal variation of action and a salient action effect are present, young infants can attribute goals to a 'wide scope' of entities including unfamiliar human actions and actions of novel objects lacking human features. It is argued that previous failures to show goal-attribution to unfamiliar actions were due to the absence of these cues. We report a modified replication of Woodward (1999) showing that when a salient action-effect is presented, even young infants can attribute a goal to an unfamiliar manual action. This study together with other recent experiments reviewed support the 'wide scope' approach indicating that if the cues of goal-directedness are present even 6-month-olds attribute goals to unfamiliar actions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)752-769
Number of pages18
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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