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Open Access

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Master of Science (M.S.)

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Month Degree Awarded



Infant, Cognition, Social


Our naïve theory of social behavior assumes that the positive and negative actions of others are caused by some underlying social disposition. Furthermore, adults automatically infer such traits in advance based upon whatever observable, even superficial, properties are available (e.g., how someone looks or sounds). The goal of the current study is to explore the developmental origins of this bias. We tested whether 12-month-old infants automatically infer a character’s social disposition (i.e., whether they ‘help’ or ‘hinder’ another character’s goal) based upon the superficial properties they display. Infants were habituated to two characters that possessed surface properties that were rated either more positively (a soft, fluffy appearance and a happy-sounding laugh) or more negatively (a sharp, pointy appearance and a deep, ominous laugh) by adults. We then observed whether babies showed more visual interest in the characters that engaged in social actions that were inconsistent rather than consistent with their appearance. A control condition helped determine whether any observed looking differences were based upon infants inferring a causal relationship between surface property and disposition or a non-causal association between positive and negative characteristics. Results from these two studies showed that infants are able to use an agent’s superficial properties in determining that agent’s future behavior.


First Advisor

Erik W Cheries