Integrating Physical Constraints in Statistical Inference by 11-Month-Old Infants

Cognitive Science 34 (5):885-908 (2010)
Much research on cognitive development focuses either on early-emerging domain-specific knowledge or domain-general learning mechanisms. However, little research examines how these sources of knowledge interact. Previous research suggests that young infants can make inferences from samples to populations (Xu & Garcia, 2008) and 11- to 12.5-month-old infants can integrate psychological and physical knowledge in probabilistic reasoning (Teglas, Girotto, Gonzalez, & Bonatti, 2007; Xu & Denison, 2009). Here, we ask whether infants can integrate a physical constraint of immobility into a statistical inference mechanism. Results from three experiments suggest that, first, infants were able to use domain-specific knowledge to override statistical information, reasoning that sometimes a physical constraint is more informative than probabilistic information. Second, we provide the first evidence that infants are capable of applying domain-specific knowledge in probabilistic reasoning by using a physical constraint to exclude one set of objects while computing probabilities over the remaining sets.
Keywords Probabilistic reasoning  Statistical inference  Physical reasoning  Learning mechanisms in infancy
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DOI 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2010.01111.x
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