Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense (Lorijn Zaadnoordijk (Donders series 417)

21 February 2020

Promotors: prof. dr. S. Hunnius, prof. dr. H. Bekkering

Discovering Structure in the Confusion: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Studying the Sense of Agency and its Development

The experience that your actions cause effects, the sense of agency, is often taken for granted by adults. We are so used to this phenomenon, that we do not consider it much in everyday life: we grasp for a coffee cup while reading the newspaper without giving it any thought. Only when we accidentally grasp the vase, we notice that we had an expectation about the consequences of our action. But how does this work in infants? Do they have a sense of agency too and what do they have to develop to get it? In my thesis, I first developed a robust theoretical framework, based on theories and methods from cognitive science and philosophy. I then used the framework to evaluate existing theories and existing data regarding infants’ sense of agency by conducting conceptual analyses and simulating infants’ behavior a commonly used experimental paradigm. The predictions generated by the framework and the simulation work served as a starting point for several experimental studies into the emerging sense of agency and its development in early infancy. As spelled out in the thesis, the theoretical insights have implications not just for developmental science but also for human-level artificial intelligence.