A claw is like my hand: comparison supports goal analysis in infants

Sarah Gerson, Amanda Woodward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Understanding the intentional relations in others’ actions is critical to human social life. Origins of this knowledge exist in the first year and are a function of both acting as an intentional agent and observing movement cues in actions. We explore a new mechanism we believe plays an important role in infants’ understanding of new actions: comparison. We examine how the opportunity to compare a familiar action with a novel, tool use action helps 7- and 10-month-old infants extract and imitate the goal of a tool use action. Infants given the chance to compare their own reach for a toy with an experimenter’s reach using a claw later imitated the goal of an experimenter’s tool use action. Infants who engaged with the claw, were familiarized with the claw’s causal properties, or learned the associations between claw and toys (but did not align their reaches with the claw’s) did not imitate. Further, active participation in the familiar action to be compared was more beneficial than observing a familiar and novel action aligned for 10-month-olds. Infants’ ability to extract the goal-relation of a novel action through comparison with a familiar action could have a broad impact on the development of action knowledge and social learning more generally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-192
Issue number2
Early online date17 Nov 2011
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


  • Infancy
  • Cognitive development
  • Action understanding
  • Analogical reasoning


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