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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Developmental Psychology
Volume (Issue) 49(7)
Page(s) 1325 - 1329
Title of proceedings Developmental Psychology
DOI 10.1037/a0029746


Research on object cognition in infancy suggests that children from (at latest) one year of age are capable of individuating objects according to property/kind information. From previous work it remains unclear, however, whether infants in such studies truly apply sortal (kind) concepts or whether they merely track objects on the basis of superficial surface features. To clarify this question, we examined infants’ flexibility in tracking property changes. In particular, we investigated which property changes infants see as diagnostic for kind changes and whether they can dynamically adapt this view as a function of prior knowledge. Fourteen-month-old infants were presented with a salient property transformation indicating a category change (i.e., a rabbit was placed in a box but a carrot retrieved from it). Prior to the test half of the infants saw how a stuffed animal could be transformed into another object by a simple mechanism. The other half was naïve of this transformation. Only infants of the naïve group interpreted the property change observed in the subsequent test as diagnostic for a change in identity and thus, expected two objects to be present in the box. The results are discussed in the light of psychological essentialism trying to explain why infants treat some classes of property changes as diagnostic for changes in identity and others not.