Children Understand Agency at an Early Age

According to a recent article on PNAS, one year old toddlers understand the difference between disorder created by an animate object and that created by an inanimate object.

Here’s the abstract:

The world around us presents two fundamentally different forms of patterns: those that appear random and those that appear ordered. As adults we appreciate that these two types of patterns tend to arise from very different sorts of causal processes. Typically, we expect that, whereas agents can increase the orderliness of a system, inanimate objects can cause only increased disorder. Thus, one major division in the world of causal entities is between those that are capable of “reversing local entropy” and those that are not. In the present studies we find that sensitivity to the unique link between agents and order emerges quite early in development. Results from three experiments suggest that by 12 mo of age infants associate agents with the creation of order and inanimate objects with the creation of disorder. Such expectations appear to be robust into children’s preschool years and are hypothesized to result from a more general understanding that agents causally intervene on the world in fundamentally different ways from inanimate objects.

Here’s the DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0914056107.

(For those humanists who don’t know what a DOI is: we need them.)

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