An ideal observer model of infant object perception

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 21 (NIPS 2008)

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Charles Kemp, Fei Xu


Before the age of 4 months, infants make inductive inferences about the motions of physical objects. Developmental psychologists have provided verbal accounts of the knowledge that supports these inferences, but often these accounts focus on categorical rather than probabilistic principles. We propose that infant object perception is guided in part by probabilistic principles like persistence: things tend to remain the same, and when they change they do so gradually. To illustrate this idea, we develop an ideal observer model that includes probabilistic formulations of rigidity and inertia. Like previous researchers, we suggest that rigid motions are expected from an early age, but we challenge the previous claim that expectations consistent with inertia are relatively slow to develop (Spelke et al., 1992). We support these arguments by modeling four experiments from the developmental literature.