Saturday, September 21, 2013

On Learning Animal-ness

According to a weird and fascinating new study, babies expect animals to not only exhibit certain behaviors (like intentional movements) and have particular physical features (like fur), but also to have guts. I mean that literally: Babies apparently find it odd to see an animal that’s hollow.

The researchers interpret these findings to mean that infants expect animals, in particular, to have insides, but don’t have that expectation for other objects. They say this bolsters something called the “innards principle,” first proposed by Baillargeon’s co-author, Rochel Gelman, in 1990. The innards principle says that we are born with the notion that things that move by themselves must have something inside of them to facilitate that motion.

Lots of research on toddlers and children has lent support to the innards principle. One 1995 study found, for example, that children younger than 8 expect the insides of animals to be different than the insides of machines. Kids also seem to understand that animals need their insides to function: Kindergarteners know, for example, that a dog can’t bark if it loses its insides, and that animals need to eat and drink to keep their insides working properly. The new study, though, is the first to show that an understanding of so-called “vitalistic biology” or “folk biology” appears at a very young age.

- More Here

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