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Daniel D. Dilks, Joshua B. Julian, Peter W. Battaglia, Nancy Kanwisher; Dissociating intuitive physics from intuitive psychology in adults with Williams syndrome. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):54. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/13.9.54.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Evidence from developmental studies suggests that our understanding of how things work (often referred to as ‘intuitive physics’) and our understanding of how people work (i.e., social perception/cognition – sometimes referred to as ‘intuitive psychology’) are two ‘core domains’ of human cognition (e.g., Carey, 1985). Here we directly test the dissociability of these two domains by investigating adults with Williams syndrome (WS) – a rare genetic developmental disorder which gives rise to an unusual cognitive profile of severe spatial deficit with relatively spared language. Adults with WS and typical control adults were tested on an intuitive physics tasks, in which participants had to judge whether a 3-second video of an unstable tower of blocks will topple over to the left or right (Hamrick et al., 2011). A category control task also asked for high-level judgments on short silent movie clips, but in this case, the judgments were social: participants had to judge whether a child in a 3-second video is interacting/playing with another person (off camera), or is playing alone (Balas et al., 2012). If intuitive physics is a distinct domain (from intuitive psychology), then we predict differential impairment on the "towers" task for WS adults relative to typical adult controls. Indeed, preliminary evidence shows disproportionate impairment in the intuitive physics (towers) task compared to the intuitive psychology task in WS adults, relative to typical controls. This result indicates that our knowledge of the physical world can be disrupted independently of intuitive psychology, and further suggests that the distinction between these two domains has a genetic basis. Future studies will ask i) whether individuals with autism show the opposite profile from WS, for a full double dissociation, and ii) whether intuitive physics is implemented in specialized brain circuits.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013
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