Making Sense of Others' Actions


Renée Baillargeon

Professor of Psychology, University of Illinois

“Making Sense of Others’ Actions:

Psychological Reasoning in Infancy”

Stewart Building, Room S1/3

Friday, April 9, 2010, 3:30 PM

1205 Dr. Penfield Ave (at Stanley)


Beginning early in the first year of life, infants attempt to make sense of others’ intentional actions. Although the nature and development of infants’ psychological reasoning (or “theory of mind”, as it is sometimes called) remain the subjects of intense controversy, the notion that infants already possess some understanding of others’ actions is becoming widely accepted. In much of the research on this topic, infants watch simple scenes in which a person acts on objects (e.g., a person reaches consistently for chocolates as opposed to carrots).


Investigators examine what mental states infants attribute to the person, and how they use these mental states to interpret and predict the person’s actions. Results indicate that infants in the first year of life are able to attribute at least two kinds of mental states to a person: motivational states (e.g., goals, dispositions), which specify the person’s motivation in the scene, and reality-congruent informational states (e.g., the person's knowledge or ignorance), which specify what accurate information the person possesses or lacks about the scene.


Over the past few years, experiments on reality-incongruent informational states have focused on the question of whether infants also realize that a person can hold false or pretend beliefs
about a scene. In my talk, I will review evidence that, when attempting to make sense of a person’s actions in a simple scene, infants take into account not only the motivational and reality-congruent informational but also the reality-incongruent informational  states of the person.

Contact Information

Albert S. Bregman
Psychology Department
Office Phone: