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Study: Infants can follow others' thoughts

Nov. 1, 2011 at 6:42 PM   |   Comments

COLUMBIA, Mo., Nov. 1 (UPI) -- University of Missouri researchers say babies 10 months old can understand the thought processes of others, offering clues to how people acquire knowledge.

"Understanding other people is a key factor in successful communication, and humans start to understand this at a very young age," Yuyan Luo, professor of developmental psychology, said. "Our study indicates that infants, even before they can verbally communicate, can understand the thought processes of other people -- even if the thoughts diverge from what the infants know as truth, a term psychologists call false belief."

Infants in the study were monitored during a common psychological test in which an actor indicated preference for certain objects. Researchers timed the infants' gazes, an indication of infant knowledge, and found they watched longer when the actor's preferences changed.

This led the researchers to believe infants understood how the actor interacted with the objects, a university release said Tuesday.

"When the actor did not witness the removal or addition of the preferred object, the infants seemed to use that information to interpret the person's actions," Luo said. "The infants appear to recognize that the actor's behavior comes from what the actor could see or could not see and hence what the actor thinks, and this finding is consistent with similar false belief studies that involve older children."

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