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Making sense of infants’ differential responses to incongruity

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Infants show strikingly different reactions to incongruity: looking (Baillargeon, 1998) or smiling (Mireault & Reddy, 2016). The former occurs in response to magical events and the latter to humorous events. We argue that these reactions depend largely on the respective experimental methodologies employed, including the popular Violation of Expectation (VOE) paradigm. Although both types of studies involve infants’ reactions to incongruity, their literatures have yet to confront each other and researchers in each domain are drawing strikingly different conclusions regarding infants’ understanding of the world. Here, we argue that infants are sensitive to and constrained by several contextual differences in the methodologies employed by incongruity researchers that afford one or the other reaction. We apply De Jaegher & Di Paolo’s (2007) Participatory Sense Making framework to further understand what infants are sensitive to in these paradigms. Understanding infants’ reactions to incongruity (i.e., VOE) is necessary to clear up claims regarding the sophisticatication of their knowledge of physical and social phenomena. Attention to several simple methodological details is recommended.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Development
Early online date17 Sep 2020
Publication statusEarly online - 17 Sep 2020


  • Making Sense of Infants' Differential Responses

    Rights statement: This is the peer-reviewed but unedited manuscript version of the following article, Mireault G.C. & Reddy V. (2020). 'Making Sense of Infants’ Differential Responses to Incongruity'. Human Development. DOI: 10.1159/000509980. The final, published version of this article is available at

    Accepted author manuscript (Post-print), 290 KB, PDF document

    Due to publisher’s copyright restrictions, this document is not freely available to download from this website until: 17/09/21

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