Five-month-old infants have expectations for the accumulation of nonsolid substances

Erin M. Anderson*, Susan J. Hespos, Lance J. Rips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Infants fail to represent quantities of non-cohesive substances in paradigms where they succeed with solid objects. Some investigators have interpreted these results as evidence that infants do not yet have representations for substances. More recent research, however, shows that 5-month-old infants expect objects and substances to behave and interact in different ways. In the present experiments, we test whether infants have expectations for substances when the outcomes are not simply the opposite of those for objects. In Experiment 1, we find that 5-month-old infants expect that when a cup of sand pours behind a screen, it will accumulate in just one pile rather than two. Similarly, infants expect that when two cups of sand pour in separate streams, two distinct piles will accumulate rather than one. Infants look significantly longer at outcomes with an inconsistent number of piles, providing evidence that infants have expectations for how sand accumulates. To test whether the number of cups or the number of pours guided expectations about accumulation, Experiment 2 placed these cues in conflict. This resulted in chance performance, suggesting that, for infants to build expectations about these outcomes, they need both cues (cup and pour) to converge. These findings offer insight into the nature of infants’ representations for non-cohesive substances like sand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Cognitive development
  • Infant cognition
  • Representation of nonsolids
  • Substance concepts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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