The Role of Functions and Motor Actions in Early Tool Concepts

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The Role of Functions and Motor Actions in Early Tool Concepts

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Title: The Role of Functions and Motor Actions in Early Tool Concepts
Author: Snedeker, Jesse; Zinchenko, Elena

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Citation: Zinchenko, Elena and Jesse Snedeker. 2011. The role of functions and motor actions in early tool concepts. Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Recent imaging studies have found activation in areas associated with motion processing and motor planning during a range of cognitive tasks involving tools. This has led some researchers to conclude that motor information is central to the conceptual representation of tools. To explore this hypothesis, we used a two-alternative forced-choice task to examine whether children and adults use motor information to determine the extension of new tool categories. Adults, 5-year-olds and 3-year-olds were introduced to a novel tool (“a dax”) and shown its function and how to manipulate it. Then two unlabelled tools were presented, one with the same function and one with the same motor manipulation. All three groups systematically extended the novel label to the tool with the same function rather than the one with same motor manipulation. Both 3- and 5-year-old children continued to extend by function when the function was imaginary and not perceptually accessible. We conclude that function is central to conceptual content of tool terms while motor information is not.
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