Preverbal infants expect agents exhibiting counterintuitive capacities to gain access to contested resources

Xianwei Meng, Yo Nakawake, Kazuhide Hashiya, Emily Burdett, Jonathan Jong, Harvey Whitehouse

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    Abstract

    Claims to supernatural power have been used as a basis for authority in a wide range of societies, but little is known about developmental origins of the link between supernatural power and worldly authority. Here, we show that 12- to 16-month-old infants expect agents exhibiting counterintuitive capacities to win out in a two-way standoff over a contested resource. Infants watched two agents gain a reward using either physically intuitive or physically counterintuitive methods, the latter involving simple forms of levitation or teleportation. Infants looked longer, indicating surprise, when the physically intuitive agent subsequently outcompeted a physically counterintuitive agent in securing a reward. Control experiments indicated that infants’ expectations were not simply motived by the efficiency of agents in pursuing their goals, but specifically the deployment of counterintuitive capacities. This suggests that the link between supernatural power and worldly authority has early origins in development.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number10884
    JournalScientific Reports
    Volume11
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    We thank Dr. Ruiting Song for feedback on the experimental procedure, Dr. Mark Nielsen and Dr. Yasuhiro Kanakogi for comments on the draft, and research assistants of Kyushu University for managing the participant pool and helping run the experiments. This work was supported by the research Grant of the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF0164) and Japan Society for Promotion of Scientific Research (18H04200, 17KT0057, 17KT0139, 18F18999, and 20K20156).

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2021, The Author(s).

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General

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