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One-year-olds warn others about negative action outcomes

Knudsen, B., & Liszkowski, U. (2013). One-year-olds warn others about negative action outcomes. Journal of Cognition and Development, 14, 424-436. doi:10.1080/15248372.2012.689387.
Warning others about unexpected negative action outcomes is a paradigm case of communicative helping and prospective action understanding. The current study addressed the ontogeny of warning in infants’ gestural communication. We found that 12- and 18-month-olds (n = 84) spontaneously warned an adult by pointing out to her an aversive object hidden in her way (Problem condition). In control conditions the object was either positive (No Problem condition) or the adult had witnessed its’ placing (Problem known condition), which resulted in significantly less pointing. Results show that infants intervene spontaneously and with foresight through communication, in order to help others avoid a problem before it has occurred. These acts of warning entail an understanding of others’ negatively defined goals (to avoid an outcome) and their incorrect representations of reality. Findings support theories of altruism and social-pragmatic competencies in infancy.
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