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Studies in Inductive Inference in Infancy

Cognitive Psychology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1006/cogp.1998.0691


Abstract Imitation of events was used to explore the inductive generalizations that 14-month-olds have made about animals, vehicles, and household artifacts. In Experiment 1 infants generalized domain-specific properties such as drinking to animals but not to vehicles, whereas they generalized domain-neutral properties such as going into a building to exemplars from both domains. The next four experiments showed that infants tend to interpret animal events very broadly, for example, construing a dog merely as a land animal rather than as a differentiated kind in its own right. Infants were somewhat more selective in their construals of vehicles. Experiment 6 showed that 14-month-olds also generalize “basic-level properties” very broadly. For example, they chose a pan to demonstrate drinking almost as often as a cup and fed a bone to a bird as often as to a dog. By 20 months, their selections narrowed appropriately for artifacts, but were still overgeneralized for natural kinds. The experiments indicate that infants tend to generalize their early experiences broadly across domains, often across exemplars that have a variety of different surface characteristics. The data suggest that it is the conceptual meaning of objects, rather than their physical features, that controls early associative learning.

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