If you flip a light switch and nothing happens, there are a couple of possible explanations. One is that something has gone wrong in the external world — maybe the bulb has burned out. Alternatively, you may have made a mistake, perhaps flipping the wrong switch.Learning to make the distinction between our own influence and the impact of the outside world is a critical part of cognitive development. Infants can integrate prior knowledge with statistical data to make these distinctions at a very young age, according to a new study from MIT cognitive scientists Laura Schulz and Hyowon Gweon. They showed that 16-month-old infants can, based on very little information, make accurate judgments of whether a failed action is due their own mistake or to circumstances beyond their control. The study, which appears in the June 24 issue of Science, is consistent with probabilistic inference models of cognition. According to...
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