Two- And Three-Year-Olds Infer And Reason About Design Intentions In Order To Categorize Broken Objects

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Developmental Science


In naming artifacts, do young children infer and reason about the intended functions of the objects? Participants between the ages of 2 and 4 years were shown two kinds of objects derived from familiar categories. One kind was damaged so as to undermine its usual function. The other kind was also dysfunctional, but made so by adding features that appeared to be intentional. Evidence that 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds were more likely to apprehend the broken objects than the intentionally dysfunctional objects as members of the familiar lexical categories favors the conclusion that, in naming, children may spontaneously infer and reason about design intentions from an early age. This is the first evidence that 2- and 3-year-olds not only take design intentions into account in object categorization, but that they do so even without explicit mention of the objects’ accidental or intentional histories. The results cast doubt on a proposal that young children's lexical categorization is based on automatic, non-deliberative processes.