Infants infer different types of social relations from giving and taking actions

AbstractAnthropological observations suggest that specific sharing behaviors may predictably covary with specific relational contexts, and thus can be used as relationally informative cues. Given their limited social experiences, cultural novices, such as infants, should be particularly likely to rely on these cues to discover the relational makeup of their social surroundings on the basis of sparse observations. The present study examines a particular hypothesis derived from this proposal, namely that infants interpret giving as indicative of social relations based on the principle of even balance. By systematically contrasting infants’ representation of giving to that of superficially similar taking events, we showed that 12-month-olds, despite being equally likely to infer dyadic relations from the observation of either transferring action (Exps. 1-4), infants encoded the direction of resource transfer only in the representation of giving (Exp. 5-6), and, conversely, transitively inferred novel relations only for social structures composed of taking relations (Exp. 7-8). We believe that the distinct inferences elicited by the observation of the two transferring actions reflects fundamental differences in the models regulating the relations respectively inferred: one (for giving) based on a principle of even balance, which motivates the monitoring of changes in resource flow in the ongoing relation; the other (for taking), based on a principle of social equivalence, which gives rise to transitive social structure.

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