Experiments using a preferential looking method, a perceptual judgment method, and a predictive judgment method investigated the development, from 7 months to 6 years of age, of sensitivity to the effects of gravity and inertia on inanimate object motion. The experiments focused on a situation in which a ball rolled off a flat surface and either continued in linear motion (contrary to gravity), turned abruptly and moved downward (contrary to inertia), or underwent natural, parabolic motion. When children viewed the three fully visible motions, both the preferential looking method and the perceptual judgment method provided evidence that sensitivity to inertia developed between 7 months and 2 years, and that sensitivity to gravity began to develop after 3 years. When children predicted the future location of the object without viewing the motions, the predictive judgment method provided evidence that sensitivity to gravity had developed by 2 years, whereas sensitivity to inertia began to develop only at 5±6 years. These findings suggest that knowledge of object motion develops slowly over childhood, in a piecemeal fashion. Moreover, the same system of knowledge appears to be tapped both in preferential looking tasks and in judgment tasks when children view fully visible events, but a different system may underlie children's inferences about unseen object motions.
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