Toddlers are able to reproduce simple arbitrary actions and are capable of making inferences about an actor’s intended behavior when a simple action is ambiguous. When imitating a complex event sequence, toddlers are able to use their understanding of an actor’s intentions, but those intentions must be clear prior to the demonstration.
Two-year-olds are able to use language cues to guide their behavior when given a choice between imitating a simple intentional act and a simple accidental act. For example, in simple actions children can use novel verbs to assist them in making inferences about an actor’s intentions. Additionally, children are able to use language to help organize their representations of complex events, thereby increasing recall of the sequence. Thus, it appears that labeling a complex event helps children make inferences about intentions and makes the event more memorable.
The current study tested children’s ability to infer an actor’s intentions when the event being labeled is complex and contains an arbitrary component. We hypothesized that older children would be more proficient at preserving the event sequence and that all children would be more likely to perform the arbitrary step if the sequence was labeled with a novel verb.
In a behavioral re-enactment procedure, 45 two- and three-year-olds were shown four three-step event sequences containing two enabling actions interrupted by an arbitrary action. Children were assigned to either a novel verb or no verb condition. After the experimenter demonstrated the event sequence twice, children were then prompted to perform the action sequence using condition appropriate language.
As predicted, older children were significantly more likely than younger children to preserve the exact event sequence order regardless of condition. Younger children were significantly more likely to simply omit the arbitrary act regardless of condition. Although there was a main effect of age, there was no significant effect of condition. However, when problematic stimuli were removed from the analysis, the effect of condition was significant.
Results indicated that children are able to utilize language to interpret an actor’s intention when the goal of a complex event is unclear or ambiguous. Children are able to use language to clarify an actor’s intentions and to facilitate recall of complex events. Finally, there appears to be a developmental trend as older children were more likely to utilize language cues than younger children.
Schwartz, Rachel. and Behrend, Douglas. “Two- and three-year-olds’ use of intentions and language when remembering complex events” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the XVth Biennial International Conference on Infant Studies, Westin Miyako, Kyoto, Japan, Jun 19, 2006
Schwartz, R. and Behrend, D. , 2006-06-19 “Two- and three-year-olds’ use of intentions and language when remembering complex events” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the XVth Biennial International Conference on Infant Studies, Westin Miyako, Kyoto, Japan