Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

Experimental Psychology, PhD

Committee Chair

Cashon, Cara

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Mervis, Carolyn

Committee Member

Mervis, Carolyn

Committee Member

Dove, Guy

Committee Member

DeCaro, Marci

Committee Member

Noles, Nicholaus

Author's Keywords

Cognition; Parenting; Social Cognition; Embodied Cognition; Learning


The aim of the current dissertation was to investigate the mechanisms that contribute to the emergence of causal perception in infancy. Previous research suggests that the experience of self-produced causal action may be necessary to promote the development of causal perception (Rakison & Krogh, 2012). The goal of the current study was two-fold: (1) to further explore the roles of self-produced action, haptic, proprioceptive and visual information, and parental interaction on young infants’ understanding of causality. To assess the impact of these factors on infants’ causal learning, 4½-month-olds were randomly assigned to one four conditions. Three of the conditions (Active with Parent Interaction, Active Without Parent Interaction, and Passive with Parent Interaction) provided infants with object-manipulation training in which infants wore “sticky mittens” that allowed them to manipulate Velcro-covered toys. The fourth condition was a no-training control condition. Following training, infants’ ability to perceive the difference between causal and non-causal versions of simple collision events (one ball colliding with another) was tested. It was hypothesized that both of the active training conditions would facilitate infants’ causal perception, while passive training would produce no effects relative to the control condition. Results demonstrated that 4½-month-old infants who received no training, and same-aged infants who received passive training that controlled for perceptual aspects of self-produced causal action experience (haptic, proprioceptive, and visual information), did not show evidence of causal perception. As hypothesized, active training experience facilitated causal perception in 4½-month-olds. However, surprisingly, active training only facilitated learning in the condition in which parents were instructed not to interact with their infants. Comparisons of the two active training groups (with and without parent interaction) revealed that the groups did not differ on a number of infant characteristics and behaviors. The results of this study suggest: (1) self-produced causal actions constitute a mechanism by which causal perception arises in infancy, and (2) parental interactions during infants’ object explorations may interfere with learning.