Publications of Girotto, V.

Pure reasoning in 12-month-old infants as probabilistic inference

Many organisms can predict future events from the statistics of past experience, but humans also excel at making predictions by pure reasoning: integrating multiple sources of information, guided by abstract knowledge, to form rational expectations about novel situations, never directly experienced. Here, we show that this reasoning is surprisingly rich, powerful, and coherent even in preverbal infants. When 12-month-old infants view complex displays of multiple moving objects, they form time-varying expectations about future events that are a systematic and rational function of several stimulus variables. Infants’ looking times are consistent with a Bayesian ideal observer embodying abstract principles of object motion. The model explains infants’ statistical expectations and classic qualitative findings about object cognition in younger babies, not originally viewed as probabilistic inferences.

Intuitions of probabilities shape expectations about the future at 12 months and beyond

Rational agents should integrate probabilities in their predictions about uncertain future events. However, whether humans can do this, and if so, how this ability originates, are controversial issues. Here, we show that 12-month-olds have rational expectations about the future based on estimations of event possibilities, without the need of sampling past experiences. We also show that such natural expectations influence preschoolers’ reaction times, while frequencies modify motor responses, but not overt judgments, only after 4 years of age. Our results suggest that at the onset of human decision processes the mind contains an intuition of elementary probability that cannot be reduced to the encountered frequency of events or elementary heuristics.