One-year-olds recognize goal intentions
Twelve-month-old children can deduce the target of the action from the movement of an opponent. Like adults, they fix their eyes in advance on the point at which the observed movement will end. However, the prerequisite is apparently that they have already mastered the movement themselves, because six-month-old infants are not yet able to do so, researchers from Sweden report.
Terje Falck-Ytter and his colleagues from Uppsala University showed film sequences of six and twelve-month-old children and adults showing a person placing three toys in a basket across a table. The older children as well as the adults fixed their eyes on this basket before the hand reached it. The younger children, on the other hand, who are not yet capable of this directed movement themselves, at most followed the hand with their eyes and in any case only focused on the target after the toys had arrived there. Children at the age of seven to nine months learn how to place an object in a different place.
When the scientists then showed the one-year-olds and the adults the same movement of the ball, but without an active person on the screen, they were unable to prove the rapid change of gaze. From this they derive mirror neurons as responsible for the proactive eye movement. These specialized nerve cells become active both when we observe a movement in others and when we perform it ourselves. They are therefore fundamentally important for social skills such as imitation and communication using language and gestures.