Children use inverse planning to detect social transmission in design of artifacts

AbstractDo children use objects to infer the people and actions that created them? We ask how children judge whether designs were socially transmitted (copied), asking if children use a simple perceptual heuristic (more similar = more likely copied), or make a rational, flexible inference (Bayesian inverse planning). We found evidence that children use inverse planning to reason about artifacts’ designs: When children saw two identical designs, they did not always infer copying occurred. Instead, similarity was weaker evidence of copying when an alternative explanation ‘explained away’ the similarity. Thus, children inferred copying had occurred less often when designs were efficient (Exp1, age 7-9; N=52), and when there was a constraint that limited the number of possible designs (Exp2, age 4-5; N=160). When thinking about artifacts, young children go beyond perceptual features and use a process like inverse planning to reason about the generative processes involved in design.

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