Origins of human agency discerned in a new study by tracking babies' motions
More the mobile moved, the more the infant was stimulated to move, producing yet more mobile motion.Positive feedback amplifies and highlights the cause-and-effect relationship between infant and mobile motion, said Scott Kelso, the studys senior author and Eminent Scholar in Science and Professor, Department of Psychology.At some critical level of coordination, the infant recognises its causal powers and transitions from spontaneous to intentional behaviour.
The realisation that one's action is effecting change triggers a ''positive feedback'', which amplifies the ''cause-and-effect relationship'' between the organism and their environment, scientists say.
Our behaviour thus transitions from a spontaneous to an intentional one, according to the researchers from the Florida Atlantic University, US.
Choosing human babies as their subjects, they found that when infants' feet were tethered to a crib-mounted baby mobile, infants discovered they could make the mobile move.
The researchers saw that each movement of an infant's foot, tethered to the mobile, caused the mobile to move. More the mobile moved, the more the infant was stimulated to move, producing yet more mobile motion.
''Positive feedback amplifies and highlights the cause-and-effect relationship between infant and mobile motion,'' said Scott Kelso, the study's senior author and Eminent Scholar in Science and Professor, Department of Psychology.
''At some critical level of coordination, the infant recognises its causal powers and transitions from spontaneous to intentional behaviour. This aha! moment is marked by an abrupt increase in infant movement rate,'' said Kelso.
The moment of infants' realisation was captured as the researchers measured infant and mobile movements, which uncovered dynamic and coordinative features of the moment that they said marked the ''birth of agency''.
The fact that goal-directed action appears in the first months of human life prompted the researchers to study human babies to answer the question ''where does agency or purpose come from?''.
While previous modelling studies have suggested that agency emerged from the coupled relation between the organism and the environment, this study aimed to understand how exactly this happened.
The study said that the approach used here framed ''agency'' as an emergent property from the functional coupling of organism and environment.
Further, agency emerges through a punctuated self-organizing process, with meaning found both in movement and stillness, the researchers found through a comprehensive analysis of baby motion, mobile motion and the interaction between the two.
''The babies in our study have revealed something really profound: that there is action in the midst of inaction, and inaction in the midst of action. Both provide meaningful information to the infant exploring the world and its place in it,'' said Kelso.
''The coordination dynamics of movement and stillness jointly constitute the unity of the baby's conscious awareness - that they can make things happen in the world. Intentionally,'' said Kelso.
Discovery driven by agency does have observable characteristics and that coordination dynamics provides a means to identify them, as shown by the distinct clusters in the timing and degree of bursts of infant activity detected, the study said.
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