Article

The Influence of Social Information on Children's Statistical and Causal Inferences

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Abstract

Constructivist accounts of learning posit that causal inference is a child-driven process. Recent interpretations of such accounts also suggest that the process children use for causal learning is rational: Children interpret and learn from new evidence in light of their existing beliefs. We argue that such mechanisms are also driven by informative social cues and suggest ways in which such information influences both preschoolers' and infants' inferences. In doing so, we argue that a rational constructivist account should not only focus on describing the child's internal cognitive mechanisms for learning but also on how social information affects the process of learning.

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... According to this account, repeated encounters with a directionally predictive cue will eventually organize an automatized attentional reorienting response to it (Ristic & Kingstone, 2005;Rombough, Barrie, & Iarocci, 2012;Vecera & Rizzo, 2006). Such learned associations occur during infancy (Sobel & Kirkham, 2012) and their automatization may indeed explain some developmental changes in the inputs that engage rapid attentional reorienting (e.g., the reduced role of eye contact and motion by early childhood). However, it is less clear how overlearning can explain top-down influences on the initiation of automatic reorienting in adulthood, such as its flexible modulation by mentalistic attributions. ...
... According to this account, repeated encounters with a directionally predictive cue will eventually organize an automatized attentional reorienting response to it (Ristic & Kingstone, 2005;Rombough, Barrie, & Iarocci, 2012;Vecera & Rizzo, 2006). Such learned associations occur during infancy (Sobel & Kirkham, 2012) and their automatization may indeed explain some developmental changes in the inputs that engage rapid attentional reorienting (e.g., the reduced role of eye contact and motion by early childhood). However, it is less clear how overlearning can explain top-down influences on the initiation of automatic reorienting in adulthood, such as its flexible modulation by mentalistic attributions. ...
Thesis
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In the current study we assessed preschool children and adults' reflexive, covert spatial attentional response to a novel entity. In particular, we assessed whether covert attention was selectively engaged after construing the novel entity as an agent. Previous research has demonstrated that children and adults' covert spatial attention may be flexibly engaged by a non-directional cueing stimulus (e.g., a circle), however this attentional response is neither spontaneous nor is it reflexive (i.e., participants were told that the stimulus predicted the eventual target's location). For the first time we have shown that covert spatial attention is spontaneously and reflexively engaged by a morphologically unfamiliar cueing character when it is interpreted as an agent but not otherwise. The implication of this finding for theoretical accounts of the development of covert attention and agency attributions more generally are discussed.
Chapter
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Chapter
This chapter focuses heavily on empirical research on whether causal learning is evident very early in life as an associative or as a primitive inferential, abstract fashion. The current predominant view is that it is Bayesian, statistical, probabilistic, computational, and so on, and not governed by either innate preformed abstraction-ready modules or associative, nonrepresentational mechanisms. The Bayesian point of view in this chapter is complemented by the interventionist and causal mapping one. In working in this area, the traditional Piagetian perspective on mental schemas still appears useful, and it is much cited. However, others dismiss its utility. In my compromise position, I show how a modified, integrative Neo-Piagetian view can be informative.
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Since Scaife and Bruner’s (1975) seminal report that many 8- to 10-month-olds will follow an experimenter’s change in eye-gaze, the field of developmental psychology has come a long way in understanding the development and significance of this behavior. From my perspective, it was the publication of Moore and Dunham’s (1995) edited volume twenty-years later that placed the topic of following another’s direction of gaze into the forefront of our field. Prior to Moore and Dunham’s volume research in this area was rather sparse and was being conducted in a handful of labs. It was in this volume that many of us, including myself as a then first-year graduate student, came to recognize and understand something of the interconnected nature of joint visual attention and the rest of development. We learned of the association between autism and infants’ inability to follow another’s line of visual regard, we began to see the relation of joint attention and early word learning and theory of mind, and we saw this behavior as another way to examine the nature of early social communication and interaction. In the nearly 12-years since the publication of Moore and Dunham we have continued to make substantial gains in understanding the development of joint attention. We have examined the relation of initiating joint attention and responding to joint attention and autism, the role of the superior temporal sulcus and other interconnected areas of the brain associated with face processing, the following of another’s eye-gaze as it informs of us of attention and the flexibility of attention. We have begun to examine the connection between gaze following and children’s susceptibility to deception, non-human primates’ proclivity for following another’s direction of gaze, and recently the significance of gaze in face recognition and social exchanges between adults. Along with these more recent areas of inquiry we have continued to examine the links of joint visual attention and early language, theory of mind, and perceptual development. The current volume represents all of these areas, both the “old” and the “new”. In preparing this volume it became clear that with each new and exciting result there came new and unexplored questions - thus we still have a long way to go! Taken together, all of the chapters in this volume highlight what I believe to be two important points. First, if we are to draw nearer to understanding human development then we must study it in situ. Certainly we need to study the “individual” but we must also study what occurs between and even among people. I believe it is what occurs within the context of these social exchanges and relationships that so frequently involve looking where another is looking that holds many keys to our understanding of social, cognitive, perceptual and neurological development. Second joint visual attention/gaze-following is not merely a developmental precursor; rather these behaviors, their relations to other developmental achievements, are all part of the dynamic system that is Development. My appreciation goes to each author for their contribution and patience with this volume. I express my gratitude to Lori Handleman at Lawrence Erlbaum Associates for her sense of humor and assistance with the editorial process, Steve Chisholm at MidAtlantic books in preparing the book for production, Sebastián Picker for the cover art, and to Kang Lee and Darwin Muir who provided assistance when needed. Enjoy!
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Introduction: Defining Joint Visual AttentionThe Phylogeny of Joint Visual AttentionThe Emergence of Joint AttentionPointing and Joint Visual AttentionPointing Comprehension in HumansThe Production of PointingPointing and PrehensionPointing and the Transition to LanguagePointing, Theory of Mind, and Childhood AutismConclusion
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Book
I Introduction.- II Intuition and Intelligence.- III Probability Learning.- IV Probability Learning in Children.- V The Intuition of Relative Frequency.- VI Estimating Odds and The Concept of Probability.- VII Combinatorial Analysis.- VIII Summary and Conclusions.- Index of Names.
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3-year-old children have difficulty reporting their past false beliefs. We investigated their ability to remember and report other types of past mental state, in particular, pretenses, images, perceptions, desires, and intentions. In a series of tasks, children were placed in one mental state, that state was changed, and they were asked to report the initial state. 4-year-olds were generally able to report all their past mental states, including beliefs. 3-year-olds were able to report past pretenses, images, and perceptions extremely well. They had great difficulty reporting past beliefs. Reporting past desires and intentions was more difficult than reporting pretenses, images, and perceptions, but slightly less difficult than reporting beliefs. The evidence suggests that 3-year-olds have difficulty understanding the nature of representation.
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Previous research has shown that preschoolers extend labels and internal properties of objects based on those objects’ causal properties, even when the causal properties conflict with the objects’ perceptual appearance [Nazzi, T., & Gopnik, A. (2000). A shift in children's use of perceptual and causal cues to categorization. Developmental Science, 3, 389–396; Sobel, D. M., Yoachim, C. M., Gopnik, A., Meltzoff, A. N., & Blumenthal, E. J. (2007). The blicket within: Preschoolers’ inferences about insides and causes. Journal of Cognition and Development, 8, 159–182]. These studies, however, only presented causal relations that acted on contact. In two studies, contact causality was replaced by distance causality. In contrast to the contact causality case, 4- and 5-year-olds extended labels to objects with similar perceptual properties over objects with similar causal properties when those properties acted at a distance. When children were asked to make inferences about object's internal properties, they were more likely to make causal responses, with 5-year-olds doing so to a greater extent than 4-year-olds. In a second study, 4-year-olds registered causal properties that acted at a distance and used them to make inferences when no perceptual conflict was present. These results support a hypothesis that young children develop an understanding of the specific mechanisms that link causal relations.
Book
For more information, go to editor's website : http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?recid=25615 Excerpts available on Google Books.
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Eighty-three 12-month-old infants faced a noisy, active, object for one minute, after which the object turned 45 degrees to the left or the right. Five conditions explored what object features elicited gaze-following behavior in the infants. In one condition, the object was an adult stranger. The other four conditions used a soft, brown, dog-sized, amorphously-shaped, asymmetrical novel object that varied along two dimensions theorized as central to the identification of intentional beings: facial features and contingently interactive behavior. Infants shifted their own attentional direction to match the orientation of the actor or object in every condition except the one in which the object lacked both a face and contingently interactive behavior. Infants’‘gaze’-following behavior in general, therefore, appears to have been driven selectively by a particular configuration of behavioral and morphological characteristics, specifically those theorized as underlying attributions of intentionality rather than attributions of person per se.
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Two habituation experiments investigated 10-month-old infants’ interpretation of events where a stationary object began to move without any visible causes. During habituation, infants saw that an object partly hidden by an occluder began to move away from the occluder. Then, they were tested with three test events without the occluder: the first event showed a hand pushing the object, the second event showed a hand failing to touch the object, and the last event had no agent. The objects were a ball in Experiment 1, and a person in Experiment 2. The test event that the infants looked at for the shortest duration in Experiment 1 was where the hand pushed the ball, whereas they looked at the three test events almost equal amounts of time in Experiment 2. These results indicate that 10-month-old infants responded to the events in terms of causality and could infer the presence of the agent behind the occluder only when they saw the habituation event featuring the ball.
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Four experiments examined 10-month-old infants' causal event perception. Experiment 1 replicated previous studies except that the specific objects used as agent and recipient varied from trial to trial. Under these conditions infants did not process the causality. Instead they keyed on specific temporal and spatial differences among the events. Experiment 2 showed that infants notice a change in the particular agent performing either a causal or noncausal action. Experiment 3 showed that infants do not notice a change in the type of action done to a particular recipient. Experiment 4 demonstrated that infants do pay attention to the object used as a recipient. As a whole, the results indicate that 10-month-old infants perceive the causality of simple events by associating a specific agent with the causal action. These results provide more support for an information-processing view than for the view that infants have a causal module.
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