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Observing the unexpected enhances infants' learning and exploration

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Given the overwhelming quantity of information available from the environment, how do young learners know what to learn about and what to ignore? We found that 11-month-old infants (N = 110) used violations of prior expectations as special opportunities for learning. The infants were shown events that violated expectations about object behavior or events that were nearly identical but did not violate expectations. The sight of an object that violated expectations enhanced learning and promoted information-seeking behaviors; specifically, infants learned more effectively about objects that committed violations, explored those objects more, and engaged in hypothesis-testing behaviors that reflected the particular kind of violation seen. Thus, early in life, expectancy violations offer a wedge into the problem of what to learn.
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RESEARCH ARTICLES
COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT
Observing the unexpected
enhances infantslearning
and exploration
Aimee E. Stahl*and Lisa Feigenson
Given the overwhelming quantity of information available from the environment,
how do young learners know what to learn about and what to ignore? We found that
11-month-old infants (N= 110) used violations of prior expectations as special
opportunities for learning. The infants were shown events that violated expectations
about object behavior or events that were nearly identical but did not violate
expectations. The sight of an object that violated expectations enhanced learning
and promoted information-seeking behaviors; specifically, infants learned more
effectively about objects that committed violations, explored those objects more,
and engaged in hypothesis-testing behaviors that reflected the particular kind of
violation seen. Thus, early in life, expectancy violations offer a wedge into the
problem of what to learn.
Humans are capable of remarkable achieve-
ments, from learning a language to design-
ing skyscrapers and mastering calculus.
These achievements would be impossi-
ble without learning. Yet, as many the-
orists have noted, the problems of when learning
should occur, and what should be learned at all,
are highly underdetermined (1,2). In an environ-
ment that is dynamic and complex, how can a
learner know which aspects of the world to at-
tend to and learn from, and which to ignore?
Without a filter for determining when and what
to learn, or a teacher to provide guidance (3), in-
formation overload can, in practice, make learn-
ing impossible.
At the same time, some aspects of the world
appear to be represented even prior to learn-
ing. These cognitive primitives, sometimes col-
lectively called core knowledge,can be observed
in newborn creatures (4,5) and emerge across
diverse rearing conditions (6) and cultures (7).
But far from obviating the need for learning,
core knowledge may be a foundational under-
standing from which learning begins. One way
this could be so is if core knowledge offers a
wedge into the hard problems of knowing when
and what to learn. If a learner has a basic rep-
ertoire of core expectations about the world,
then detecting a violation of these expectations
a conflict between what was predicted and what
is observedmightsignalaspecialopportunity
for learning.
Acluethatcoreknowledgemayinfactguide
early learning comes from infantsbehavior
in tests of preverbal cognition. Across hun-
dreds of studies, infants respond when basic
expectations are violated, including expecta-
tions generated by core knowledge (8). For ex-
ample, infants look longer when a ball appears
to pass through a wall than when it is stopped
by the wall, suggesting a core understanding of
object solidity (9), and they look longer when
an object hidden in one location is revealed in
a different location, suggesting a core under-
standing of object continuity (10). Seeing sur-
prising events like these can trigger increases
in infantslooking, as well as alterations in
facial expression (11), pupil dilation (12), and
changes in cerebral blood flow or brain electri-
cal activity (13,14). These various responses
have been taken to indicate the detection of a
discrepancy between what was expected and
what is observed, and have been documented
across many knowledge domains. Infants de-
tect violations when, for example, a hidden ob-
ject vanishes (15), when 5 + 5 = 5 (16), and when
a social entity approaches someone mean rath-
er than someone nice (17). Responses to such
surprising physical, numerical, and social events
have been invaluable in efforts to character-
ize the roots of human cognition. Yet it re-
mains unknown what purpose these surprise
responses serve and what the cognitive conse-
quences of experiencing an expectancy viola-
tion might be.
Here we tested the hypothesis that, early in
life, violations of core expectations signal a spe-
cial opportunity for learning. First we asked
whether infants more effectively learn new in-
formation about objects thatviolate expectations
than about objects that accord with expectations
(experiments 1 to 3). Then we asked whether in-
fants preferentially seek information from objects
that violated expectations, and whether their ex-
ploratory actions test plausible explanations for
an observed violation (experiment 4).
Infantslearning about objects that
violated expectations
In experiments 1 to 3, we showed infants an
event whose outcome either was expected be-
cause it accorded with core knowledge of object
behavior or was surprising because it violated
core knowledge, using events modeled on those
in many previous studies. Then we taught infants
something new about the object that had par-
ticipated in the event, and finally we measured
how well they learned this new information.
Three aspects of our design were crucial. First,
we ensured that events that violated core knowl-
edge differed minimally from events that ac-
corded with core knowledge, by perceptually
matching the events in all respects except for
their outcomes. Second, we ensured that any
observed learning enhancement was caused by
experiencing a violation of core expectations,
rather than by longer perceptual exposure to
objects that violated expectations, by match-
ing the duration of infantslooking across out-
come types. Third, we ensured that infants were
learning something genuinely new by teach-
ing them information that could not have been
known beforehand and that could not have
been acquired just by seeing the objects them-
selves (i.e., we taught infants an objects hidden
property).
In experiment 1, 11-month-old infants saw
an event that either accorded with or violated
object solidity or spatiotemporal continuity,
two core physical principles to which young
infants have consistently shown sensitivity
(1820)(N= 40; movies S1 to S4). In the so-
lidity event (Fig. 1A), infants saw an object (a
toy car for half the infants; a ball for the other
half) roll down a ramp and pass behind a
screen. A solid wall, partially visible above the
screen, clearly blocked the objects path. In-
fants then saw the screen removed to reveal
either that the object had been stopped by the
wall, thereby according with expectations about
solidity (Knowledge-Consistent outcome, n=10),
or that the object appeared to have passed
through the wall, thereby violating expecta-
tions about solidity (Knowledge-Violation out-
come, n= 10). In the spatiotemporal continuity
event (Fig. 1B), a separate group of infants saw
two screens placed on an empty stage. The ex-
perimenter hid an object (a ball for half the
infants; a block for the other half) behind the
left screen, then lifted both screens to reveal
either that the object was still behind the left
screen, thereby according with expectations
about continuity (Knowledge-Consistent out-
come, n= 10), or that the object was now behind
the right screen, thereby violating expectations
about continuity (Knowledge-Violation outcome,
n=10).
Unlike previous studies designed to measure
differences in infantslooking to expected versus
RESEARCH
SCIENCE sciencemag.org 3APRIL2015VOL 348 ISSUE 6230 91
Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Johns
Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.
*Corresponding author. E-mail: astahl4@jhu.edu
on April 2, 2015www.sciencemag.orgDownloaded from on April 2, 2015www.sciencemag.orgDownloaded from on April 2, 2015www.sciencemag.orgDownloaded from on April 2, 2015www.sciencemag.orgDownloaded from
violation events, here we gave all infants the
same limited visual exposure to the Knowledge-
Consistent and Knowledge-Violation outcomes;
all infants had just 10 s to encode the event out-
come. A univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA),
with looking time to the event outcome as the de-
pendent variable and event type (Solidity or Con-
tinuity) and outcome type (Knowledge-Consistent
or Knowledge-Violation) as fixed factors, showed
no main effect of outcome type [F(1,36) = 0.002,
P= 0.96] (18) (table S1), which was as predicted
given the short encoding window in our de-
sign. Thus, any subsequent differences in learn-
ing cannot be attributed to longer perceptual
exposure to the object in the Knowledge-Violation
events.
Immediately after this 10-s exposure to the
outcome of the Knowledge-Consistent or the
Knowledge-Violation event, we taught all in-
fants new information about the object in the
event. The experimenter demonstrated that the
object had a hidden auditory property (e.g., it
squeaked) by moving it up and down while the
sound played synchronously from a hidden
central location for 12 s. Our dependent mea-
sure was infantslearning of this object-sound
mapping. In the test trial, infants saw the tar-
get object from the preceding event and a new
distractor object resting silently on the stage
(baseline; 5 s). For half the infants, the ball was
the target and either the car or the block was
the distractor; this was reversed for the other
half. Then the experimenter moved both ob-
jects up and down simultaneously while the
previously taught sound (e.g., squeaking) played
from a hidden central location (mapping test;
10 s). For each infant we calculated a learning
score by determining the proportion of time
that infants looked at the target object (relative
to the new distractor object) during the base-
line, then subtracting this value from the pro-
portion of time they looked at the target object
during the mapping test, when the taught
sound played (table S1). If infants had success-
fully learned the object-sound mapping, they
should increase the proportion of time they
looked at the target object when the sound played;
such auditory-visual matchingis the pattern
typically observed in studies of infantsmapping
abilities (21).
We found that infantslearning of the object-
sound mapping depended on whether they had
just seen a Knowledge-Consistent or a Knowledge-
Violation event. A univariate ANOVA, with learn-
ing score as the dependent variable and event
type (Solidity or Continuity) and outcome type
(Knowledge-Consistent orKnowledge-Violation)
as fixed factors, yielded only a significant main
effect of outcome type [F(1,36) = 10.691, P=0.002,
partial h
2
= 0.229]. Infantslearning scores were
significantly greater after Knowledge-Violation
events than after Knowledge-Consistent events
(Fig. 2A). We then compared infantslearning
scores to chance (zero). Infants showed no evi-
dence of learning after events consistent with
object solidity [t(9) = 1.088, P= 0.31] or con-
tinuity [t(9) = 1.62, P= 0.14] but showed sig-
nificant learning after violations to object solidity
[t(9) = 3.092, P= 0.01] and spatiotemporal con-
tinuity [t(9) = 3.715, P= 0.005] (18)(Fig.2Aand
table S1).
In experiment 2, we asked whether this pat-
tern reflected actual learning or simply indicated
greater attention to objects that had violated
expectations. As in experiment 1, infants saw
an object violate the core principle of solidity
(n= 10) or continuity (n= 10) and were then
taught that the object had a hidden auditory
property (e.g., it squeaked). However, during
the mapping test, we played an entirely novel
sound (e.g., rattling). This time, infants did not
increase their proportion of looking to the tar-
get object when the novel sound played after
violations of either solidity [t(9) = 1.453, P=
0.18] or continuity [t(9) = 0.036, P=0.97](table
S1). A univariate ANOVA, with learning score
as the dependent variable and event type (So-
lidity or Continuity) and sound type (taught
sound from the Knowledge-Violation condition
of experiment 1 or novel sound from experiment
2) as fixed factors, yielded only a significant main
effect of sound type. Infantslearning scores
were significantly greater when the taught sound
played in the mapping test (experiment 1) than
when the novel sound played (experiment 2)
[F(1,36) = 5.349, P= 0.03, partial h
2
= 0.129]
(18). This confirms that infantsperformance
in experiment 1 reflected successful learning
of an object property, rather than heightened
visual preference for an object that had violated
expectations.
In experiment 3, we asked whether viola-
tions of expectation enhance learning specif-
ically about objects that violated expectations,
rather than about anything that might follow
a violation. We showed infants (n= 10) the
continuity violation from experiment 1, with an
object (i.e., ball) hidden behind the left screen
but revealed behind the right. After the object
was revealed in the surprising location, the
experimenter reached in with a new object (i.e.,
a block) and demonstrated that it had a hid-
den auditory property (e.g., it squeaked). We
then measured infantslearning about this
new object. As in experiment 1, we calculated
learning scores by determining the proportion
of time that infants looked at this new object
(relative to a distractor object) during the si-
lent baseline, then subtracting this value from
the proportion of time they looked at it dur-
ing the mapping test, when the taught sound
played. We found that infants did not map
the sound to the new object in the mapping
test; their learning scores did not differ from
chance [t(9) = 0.074, P= 0.94] (table S1). An
independent-samples ttest confirmed that
this pattern differed significantly from that
of experiment 1, in which infants were taught
about the very object that had violated con-
tinuity [t(18) = 2.126, P=0.048] (18). Hence,
violations of expectation enhanced learning
only for the object involved in the violation
event, not for unrelated objects. Further, in-
fantsfailure to learn about the new object
shows that the enhanced learning in experi-
ment 1 was not due to general arousal or nov-
elty. When taught about an object that was
completely perceptually novel (because it had
never been seen before) but did not violate
any expectations, infants showed no evidence
of learning.
92 3APRIL2015VOL 348 ISSUE 6230 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
Knowledge-
Consistent
Knowledge-
Consistent
Knowledge-
Consistent
Knowledge-
Violation
Knowledge-
Violation
Knowledge-
Violation
Fig. 1. Knowledge-Consistent and Knowledge-Violation outcomes in experiments 1 to 4. (A) Solidity events (movies S1 and S2). (B) Continuity events
(movies S3 and S4). (C) Support events (movies S5 and S6).
RESEARCH |RESEARCH ARTICLES
Infantsexploration and hypothesis
testing after violations of expectation
Our finding that violations shaped infants
learning in a targeted way, enhancing learn-
ing only about objects relevant to the observed
violation, raises a further question about the
nature of the new information learned. In ex-
periments 1 to 3, the new information taught
to infants was arbitrary, in the sense that it did
not clearly causally relate to the surprising vio-
lations (because the sound made by an object
does not offer a direct explanation for its be-
havior). Besides enhancing learning for such
arbitrary mappings [like those acquired by
nonhuman animals (22)], do violations of ex-
pectation privilege the learning of particular
kinds of information that are relevant to the
nature of the surprising event? When an ob-
servation conflicts with prior knowledge, an
effective learning strategy would be to seek
evidence that could explain the discrepancy be-
tween what was predicted and what is observed.
Older children engage in this kind of hypothesis
testing, performing targeted actions to support
or rule out possible explanations for an event
(23,24). But it is unknown whether preverbal
infants actively test hypotheses about events,
especially events involving violations of core
knowledge.
In experiment 4, we first asked whether in-
fants (N= 40) preferentially seek information
from an object that violated expectations over
an object that did not. Infants saw an event
that either accorded with or violated the prin-
ciples of object solidity or (extending our in-
quiry to another principle) object support (18)
(movies S5 and S6). The solidity events were
identical to those in experiment 1 (Knowledge-
Consistent outcome, n= 10; Knowledge-Violation
outcome, n= 10) (Fig. 1A). In the support event
(Fig. 1C), infants saw an object (e.g., car) either
pushed along a surface while remaining com-
pletely supported, thereby according with expec-
tations about support (Knowledge-Consistent
outcome, n= 10), or pushed over the surface
edge without falling, thereby violating expect-
ations about support (Knowledge-Violation out-
come, n=10)(25). As before, we limited infants
visual exposure to the event outcomes; a uni-
variate ANOVA, with looking time to the eve nt
outcome as the d ependent variable and event
type (Solidity or Support) and outcome type
(Knowledge-Consistent orKnowledge-Violation)
as fixed factors, showed no main effect of
outcome type [F(1,36) = 0.794, P=0.379](18)
(table S2).
After infants saw the outcome of the solid-
ity or support event, we gave them two objects
to freely explore for 60 s: the target object
from the preceding event (e.g., car) and a new
distractor object (e.g., ball; for half the infants
the car was the target and the ball was the
distractor, and for the other half this was re-
versed). We calculated infantsexploration pre-
ference scores by subtracting the amount of
time they explored the new distractor object
from the amount of time they explored the tar-
get object (table S2). We predicted that infants
who had seen a Knowledge-Consistent event
would show no preference, whereas infants who
had seen a Knowledge-Violation event would
prefer to explore the object that h ad just vio-
lated their expectations. A univariate ANOVA,
with infantsexploration preference score as
the dependent variable and event type (Solid-
ity or Support) and outcome type (Knowledge-
Consistent or Knowledge-Violation) as fixed
factors, yielded a significant main effect of out-
come type [F(1,36) = 5.933, P=0.02, partial h
2
=
0.14]: Infants who had seen the Knowledge-
Violation event explored the target object more
than infants who had seen the Knowledge-
Consistent event. We then compared infants
SCIENCE sciencemag.org 3APRIL2015VOL 348 ISSUE 6230 93
-30 -20 -10 0 10
-30
-
20
-
10
0
10
Exploration Score
Prefer Distractor Object Prefer Target Object
Learning Score
Map to Distractor Object Map to Target Object
Infant exploration following:
-2 -1.5 -1 -0.5 0 0.5 1 1.5 2
-2
-1.
5
-
1
-0.5 0 0.5
1.
5
2
Action Tendency Score (z-score)
More Dropping More Banging
Infant behavior following:
Knowledge-Violation
Event (Solidity)
Knowledge-Consistent
Event (Solidity)
Knowledge-Violation
Event (Support)
Knowledge-Consistent
Event (Support)
Knowledge-Violation
Event (Solidity)
Knowledge-Consistent
Event (Solidity)
Knowledge-Violation
Event (Support)
Knowledge-Consistent
Event (Support)
-0.3 -0.2 -0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3
Knowledge-Violation
Event (Solidity)
Knowledge-Consistent
Event (Solidity)
Knowledge-Violation
Event (Continuity)
Knowledge-Consistent
Event (Continuity)
20 30
Infant learning following:
Fig. 2. Results from experiments 1 and 4. (A) Infantslearning after Knowledge-Consistent and
Knowledge-Violation events in experiment 1. Bars represent average learning scores (proportion of
looking at target object during mapping test minus proportion of looking at target object during
baseline). (B)Infantsexploration after Knowledge-Consistent and Knowledge-Violation events in
experiment 4. Bars represent looking at and/or touching the target object minus looking at and/or
touching the new distractor object. (C) Infantsexploratory behaviors on the target object after
Knowledge-Consistent and Knowl edge-Violation even ts in exper iment 4. Ba rs represe nt infant s
z-scored object-banging behaviors minus z-scored object-dropping behaviors. All error bars rep-
resent SEM.
RESEARCH |RESEARCH ARTICLES
exploration preference scores to chance (zero).
Collapsed across the solidity and support events,
infants who had seen a Knowledge-Consistent
event explored the target and distractor objects
equally [t(19) = 1.128, P= 0.27], whereas in-
fants who had seen a Knowledge-Violation event
preferred to explore the target object [t(19) =
2.395, P=0.027](18) (Fig. 2B and table S2).
Infants who saw a violation event showed
enhanced interest in the violation object, pre-
ferring to explore it over a new object. Because
details of infantsexploratory behaviors might
reveal an even richer interplay between knowl-
edge and exploration, we next asked whether
infants explored the target object qualitatively
differently depending on which violation they
had seen. We analyzed two common exploratory
behaviors, each relevant to one of the presented
events: banging an object (relevant to testing
object solidity) and dropping an object onto
the table or floor (relevant to testing object sup-
port). Because dropping an object takes longer
than banging an object, we converted the fre-
quency of these behaviors into zscores to en-
able direct comparison (table S2). To calculate
infantstendency to bang versus drop objects,
we subtracted each infantsz-scored dropping
frequency from their z-scored banging fre-
quency. A univariate ANOVA, with action tenden-
cy score on the target object as the dependent
variable and event type (Solidity or Support)
and outcome type (Knowledge-Cons istent or
Knowledge-Violation) as fixed factors, yielded
a significant interaction between event type
and outcome type [F(1,36) = 9.43, P= 0.004,
partial h
2
= 0.208] (Fig. 2C). An independent-
samples ttest revealed that infants who had
seen an object appear to pass through a wall
(Knowledge-Violation solidity event) banged
that object more than they dropped it, relative to
infants who had seen the same object stopped by
the wall (Knowledge-Consistent solidity event)
[t(18) = 2.378, P= 0.029]. By contrast, infants
who had seen an object appear to hover in mid-
air (Knowledge-Violation support event) did
the reverse: They dropped the object more than
they banged it, relative to infants who had seen
the same object fully supported (Knowledge-
Consistent support event) [t(18) = 2.045, P=
0.056] (18) (Fig. 2C and table S2). This double
dissociation in infantsbehaviorwherein in-
fants who saw a solidity violation tended to ac-
tively bang the target object, whereas infants who
saw a support violation tended to drop itshows
that infants tailored their exploratory actions to
the type of violation seen.
The infantsbanging and dropping of the
new distractor object that had not participated
in the solidity or support event did not differ
across event types or outcomes. A univariate
ANOVA, with action tendency score on the dis-
tractor object as the dependent variable and
event type (Solidity or Support) and outcome
type (Knowledge-Consistent or Knowledge-
Violation) as fixed factors, yielded no significant
interaction [F(1,36) = 0.062, P=0.80].Critical-
ly, a repeated-measures ANOVA that examined
action tendency scores across object type (tar-
get or distractor), event type (Solidity or Sup-
port), and outcome type (Knowledge-Consistent
or Knowledge-Violation) yielded a significant
interaction among these three factors [F(1,36) =
4.95, P= 0.032, partial h
2
= 0.12] (18); infants
performed differential actions only after Knowl-
edge-Violation events and only on the objects
that had committed the violation. This dissoci-
ation in infantsactions on just the target object
reveals two senses in which infantsbehaviors
were highly directed: They focused on the entity
that had violated expectations, and they were
relevant to the nature of the observed violation.
Thus, infantsbehaviors are not merely reflexive
responses to the novelty of surprising outcomes
but instead reflect deeper attempts to learn
about aspects of the world that failed to accord
with expectations.
Conclusions
Our findings show that infantslearning is
changed when their expectations are violated.
Much as scientists faced with unexpected pat-
terns of data are propelled to think harder, run
further experiments, or change their methods of
inquiry, untutored preverbal minds are sensitive
to conflict between the predicted and the ob-
served, and use this conflict as a scaffold for
new learning.
In our experiments, we tested learning after
violations of expectations drawn from core knowl-
edge of object behaviorknowledge that is avail-
able from early in life, is universal across human
cultures, and is present in other species. The
existence of these foundational expectations has
beenusedtoargueforthepresenceofrichinnate
knowledge in infants; given our finding that vio-
lations of these expectations lead to enhanced
learning, early knowledge and early learning
are mutually reinforcing. In addition,expectancy
violations involving other types of knowledge
are also likely to be important in learning. Chil-
dren form new expectations by tracking expe-
rienced contingencies (26), by receiving others
testimony (27), and by using abstract knowl-
edge to form probabilistic predictions about
events they have never observed (28). Some of
these sophisticated behaviors have been inter-
preted in terms of Bayesian inferences that gen-
erate knowledge by weighing new evidence
against prior beliefs (29,30). Our findings accord
well with such a framework and suggest ave-
nues to explore how violations detected in dif-
ferent domains of prior knowledge, or using
different kinds of new evidence, shape explo-
ration and learning throughout the life span
and across species.
Together, our experiments reveal that when
infants see an object defy their expectations,
they learn about that object better, explore that
object more, and test relevant hypotheses for
that objects behavior. Seen through this lens,
the decades of findings that infants look longer
at surprising events suggest not only that in-
fants are equipped with core knowledge about
fundamental aspects of the world but also
that this knowledge is harnessed to empower
new learning even in infancy. Thus, core knowl-
edge is not an alternative to learning but is
instead a key ingredient in driving learning
forward.
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ACKNO WLED GME NTS
Supported by NSF Graduate Research Fellowship DGE-1232825
(A.E.S.). We thank J. Halberda for comments; J. Taggart,
S. Folsom, M. Santoru, C. Veazey, G. Lisandrelli, and K. Grubb
for assistance with data collection and coding; and J. Garmon
for construction of the experimental apparatus. Data can be
found on the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences
dataverse (DOI: 10.7910/DVN/29315).
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Aimee E. Stahl and Lisa Feigenson
Observing the unexpected enhances infants' learning and exploration
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... Another measure of surprise that can be used in VOE tasks involving physical violations, broadly defined, examines whether infants are more likely to approach and explore an object that was previously involved in a violation than an object that was not. With appropriate controls, greater exploration of the violation object is taken to indicate that infants detected the violation they were shown and, through their exploratory activities, are trying to glean information that can help them make sense of this violation (Sim & Xu, 2017;Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). For example, Stahl and Feigenson (2015) showed 11-month-olds a single live event in which a target object behaved in a manner that either accorded with or violated the solidity principle (the object stopped against an obstacle or passed through it) or the gravity principle (the object remained stable with or without support). ...
... With appropriate controls, greater exploration of the violation object is taken to indicate that infants detected the violation they were shown and, through their exploratory activities, are trying to glean information that can help them make sense of this violation (Sim & Xu, 2017;Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). For example, Stahl and Feigenson (2015) showed 11-month-olds a single live event in which a target object behaved in a manner that either accorded with or violated the solidity principle (the object stopped against an obstacle or passed through it) or the gravity principle (the object remained stable with or without support). Next, infants were presented with the target object and a novel distractor object to freely explore for 60 s. ...
... Additional results indicated that when searching for explanations, infants not only spent more time exploring violation objects but also tailored their exploratory activities to the specific violations shown (Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). Thus, infants who had seen an object pass through an obstacle were more likely to bang it (as though testing its solidity), whereas infants who had seen an object remain suspended in midair were more likely to drop it (as though testing its sensitivity to gravity). ...
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For over 35 years, the violation-of-expectation (VOE) paradigm has been used to study the development, during the first three years of life, of a wide range of cognitive expectations, including physical, psychological, biological, sociomoral, numerical, statistical, probabilistic, and linguistic expectations. Surprisingly, despite the paradigm's widespread use and the many seminal findings it has contributed to psychological science over the years, there has not yet been an attempt at providing a detailed, in-depth analysis of its development and conceptual underpinnings. Here, we attempted to do just that. We first focus on the rationale of the paradigm and discuss how it has evolved over time. Next, we show how a panoply of methodological advances and extensions has helped broaden and strengthen the paradigm. We then turn to a review of the paradigm's main strengths and limitations. Finally, we end with a discussion of various challenges that have been leveled against the paradigm over the years. Through it all, our goal was twofold. First, we sought to provide future generations of developmental psychologists and other social scientists with an informed and constructive introduction to the conceptual underpinnings of the VOE paradigm. Second, we wanted to take stock on what the paradigm has revealed to date about how infants form expectations about events, and about how surprise at unexpected events, in or out of the laboratory, can lead to learning, by prompting infants to revise their working model of the world so as to form more accurate expectations in the future.
... The presence of normality constraints on modal thought have been found as early in human life as has been tested (Baillargeon, 1987;Brown & Woolley, 2004;Chernyak, Kushnir, Sullivan, & Wang, 2013;Kalish, 1998;Lane, Ronfard, Francioli, & Harris, 2016;Phillips & Bloom, 2022;Shtulman, 2009;Shtulman & Carey, 2007;Shtulman & Phillips, 2018;Spelke, 2001;Stahl & Feigenson, 2015;Téglás, et al., 2007). For example, even very young infants' expectations about the movement of physical objects assume that physical generalizations concerning object continuity and solidity will not be violated (Baillargeon, 1987;Spelke, 2001;Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). ...
... The presence of normality constraints on modal thought have been found as early in human life as has been tested (Baillargeon, 1987;Brown & Woolley, 2004;Chernyak, Kushnir, Sullivan, & Wang, 2013;Kalish, 1998;Lane, Ronfard, Francioli, & Harris, 2016;Phillips & Bloom, 2022;Shtulman, 2009;Shtulman & Carey, 2007;Shtulman & Phillips, 2018;Spelke, 2001;Stahl & Feigenson, 2015;Téglás, et al., 2007). For example, even very young infants' expectations about the movement of physical objects assume that physical generalizations concerning object continuity and solidity will not be violated (Baillargeon, 1987;Spelke, 2001;Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). Moreover, the previously discussed work by Téglás and colleagues has shown that infants' expectations about future events were guided by that event's probability. ...
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Cognitive scientists have become increasingly interested in understanding how natural minds represent and reason about possible ways the world may be. However, there is currently little agreement on how to understand this remarkable capacity for 'modal thought'. Drawing on formal frameworks for reasoning about possibilities from logic, philosophy, computer science, and linguistics, we argue that this capacity is built from a set of relatively simple component parts, centrally involving a basic ability to consider possible extensions of a piece of the actual world. Natural minds can productively combine this basic ability with a range of other capacities, eventually allowing for the observed suite of increasingly more sophisticated ways of reasoning about what is possible. We demonstrate how this (de)compositional account can accurately predict both what has been observed in the trajectory of children's developing capacity to reason about possibilities and what has been observed in how modal thought is expressed within and across natural languages. Our hope is that this framework will provide cognitive scientists with a more systematic way of understanding variation in actuality-directed modal thought and talk, which will serve as the beginnings of a common language that allows researchers across disciplines to better understand each other.
... We know that unpredictability enhances infant's attention (Kidd et al., 2012;Meyer, van Schaik, Poli, & Hunnius, 2022;Poli et al., 2020) and learning (Stahl & Feigenson, 2015), and that attentional engagement during exploration predicts how well infants learn novel object properties (Begus, Southgate, & Gliga, 2015). When 11-month-old infants observe events that violate their expectations about object properties (e.g., a toy car that flies instead of obeying the laws of gravity), they spend more time looking at these objects, and learn their novel properties better (Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). ...
... We know that unpredictability enhances infant's attention (Kidd et al., 2012;Meyer, van Schaik, Poli, & Hunnius, 2022;Poli et al., 2020) and learning (Stahl & Feigenson, 2015), and that attentional engagement during exploration predicts how well infants learn novel object properties (Begus, Southgate, & Gliga, 2015). When 11-month-old infants observe events that violate their expectations about object properties (e.g., a toy car that flies instead of obeying the laws of gravity), they spend more time looking at these objects, and learn their novel properties better (Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). Furthermore, when given the opportunity to explore these objects, infants tend to try and reproduce the surprising event, which can be seen as an attempt to test hypotheses about the surprising object. ...
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Curious information-seeking is known to be a key driver for learning, but characterizing this important psychological phenomenon remains a challenge. In this article, we argue that solving this challenge requires qualifying the relationships between metacognition and curiosity. The idea that curiosity is a metacognitive competence has been resisted: researchers have assumed both that young children and non-human animals can be genuinely curious, and that metacognition requires conceptual and culturally situated resources that are unavailable to young children and non-human animals. Here, we argue that this resistance is unwarranted given accumulating evidence that metacognition can be deployed procedurally, and we defend the view that curiosity is a metacognitive feeling. Our metacognitive view singles out two monitoring steps as a triggering condition for curiosity: evaluating one's own informational needs, and predicting the likelihood that explorations of the proximate environment afford significant information gains. We review empirical evidence and computational models of curiosity, and show that they fit well with this metacognitive account, while on the contrary, they remain difficult to explain by a competing account according to which curiosity is a basic attitude of questioning. Finally, we propose a new way to construe the relationships between curiosity and the human-specific communicative practice of questioning, discuss the issue of how children may learn to express their curiosity through interactions with others, and conclude by briefly exploring the implications of our proposal for educational practices.
... For instance, according to the influential predictive coding theory, the brain constantly constructs predictions about incoming stimuli, and these predictions are hierarchically organised on different processing levels (Friston, 2005(Friston, , 2009Bubic et al., 2010). It has also been proposed that these anticipatory processes play an important role in learning (e.g., Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). A particularly promising suggestion is that predictions could be the key to one of the most intriguing developmental processes -how infants learn language 1 . ...
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Running title: The babe with the predictive power 2 Highlights: 1. This study will verify an essential requirement for the validation of error-based theories of language acquisition: early predictive processing in infancy. 2. We will target syllable-level prediction in familiar words by measuring 9-month-old infants' mismatch response using EEG. 3. To ensure that this prediction measure has sufficient statistical power despite infants' variable mismatch responses, we introduce a tone-change-detection Optimum-1 task as a localizer. 4. This design can ensure that measured reactions to predictable input do not differ solely due to differences in transitional probability, excluding a common confound. Abstract: Error-based learning theories suggest that predictions play a key role from the earliest stages of language acquisition; yet existing studies have typically focused only on older age groups. As a result, there is currently limited evidence that prediction is a viable learning mechanism in infancy. This study targets the role of prediction in early word encoding to assess the viability of such a learning mechanism. To achieve this, we have adapted an adult EEG study focusing on syllabic prediction (Vidal et al., 2019) for an infant population. Our study starts with a learning phase, in which 39 nine-month-old infants hear two trisyllabic pseudowords. These words are then used as standard stimuli in an oddball-phase with four new words. Two of these deviant words only share their first syllable with a familiar word while the other two share their first two syllables. We will measure whether infants' mismatch-response (MMR) differs between standard and deviant words, to address whether 9-month-olds make phonemic-level predictions. We will also assess the MMR-difference between the two kinds of deviants. An MMR difference after one versus two shared syllables would suggest that cumulative congruent input reinforces prediction. As infants' MMR can vary, we will also carry out a second task to localize the individual MMR responses of each participant in the form of a tone-change-detection Optimum-1 task. This task will determine the location, latency and polarity of the MMR for each infant separately, and will ensure that the study has sufficient statistical power.
... 2 Related work 2.1 Epistemic curiosity and QA training in education Curiosity plays an important role in learning from infancy [53] to adulthood [45], and in fostering academic achievement, particularly for children with low socio-economic status [50]. It can be seen as a a personality trait ( [28]), a psycho-emotional state aroused by external situations( [39], [27]), [4],...) or as a malleable skill that can be trained through teaching specific practices. ...
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Students' ability to ask curious questions is a crucial skill that improves their learning processes. To train this skill, previous research has used a conversational agent that propose specific cues to prompt children's curiosity during learning. Despite showing pedagogical efficiency, this method is still limited since it relies on generating the said prompts by hand for each educational resource, which can be a very long and costly process. In this context, we leverage the advances in the natural language processing field and explore using a large language model (GPT-3) to automate the generation of this agent's curiosity-prompting cues to help children ask more and deeper questions. We then used this study to investigate a different curiosity-prompting behavior for the agent. The study was conducted with 75 students aged between 9 and 10. They either interacted with a hand-crafted conversational agent that proposes "closed" manually-extracted cues leading to predefined questions, a GPT-3-driven one that proposes the same type of cues, or a GPT-3-driven one that proposes "open" cues that can lead to several possible questions. Results showed a similar question-asking performance between children who had the two "closed" agents, but a significantly better one for participants with the "open" agent. Our first results suggest the validity of using GPT-3 to facilitate the implementation of curiosity-stimulating learning technologies. In a second step, we also show that GPT-3 can be efficient in proposing the relevant open cues that leave children with more autonomy to express their curiosity.
... Well-encoded displays may support the formation of strong expectations concerning future events. Under these conditions, infants are likely to view the expected test event as highly probable, and therefore show less interest in that event than in the unexpected event, which presents them with an opportunity to learn (Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). If the initial events are more complex, less compelling, or more demanding of attention and memory, in contrast, infants likely will form weaker expectations about future events. ...
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Imitation is ubiquitous in positive social interactions. For adult and child observers, it also supports inferences about the participants in such interactions and their social relationships, but the origins of these inferences are obscure. Do infants attach social significance to this form of interaction? Here we test 4- to 5.5-month-old infants’ interpretation of imitation, asking if the imitative interactions they observe support inferences of social affiliation across 10 experimental conditions that varied the modality of the imitation (movement vs. sound), the roles of specific characters (imitators vs. targets), the number of characters in the displays (3 vs. 5), and the number of parties initiating affiliative test events (1 vs. 2). These experiments, together with one experiment conducted with 12-month-old infants, yielded three main findings. First, infants expect that characters who engaged in imitation will approach and affiliate with the characters whom they imitated. Second, infants show no evidence of expecting that characters who were targets of imitation will approach and affiliate with their imitators. Third, analyzing imitative interactions is difficult for young infants, whose expectations vary in strength depending on the number of characters to be tracked and the number of affiliative actors to be compared. These findings have implications for our understanding of social imitation, and they provide methods for advancing understanding of other aspects of early social cognitive development.
... The richest opportunities for improving our predictive grip will come from affordances that are neither too complex, nor too simple that we already know how to exploit and make the most out of them. Various lines of research support the view that agents like us (and lots of other intelligent animals) actively seek out environments with optimal amounts of prediction error or complexity (see Kidd et al. [2012], Stahl and Feigenson [2015], Berlyne [1966]; and for an implementation of this idea in robotics see Schillaci et al. [2020]). A system that is affectively tuned to changes in the rate at which prediction error is minimized will naturally find itself attracted to those opportunities where the most prediction error can be reduced. ...
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Culture exploits the acquisition of meaningful content by crafting regimes of shared attention, determining what is relevant, valuable, and salient. Culture changes the field of relevant social affordances worthy of being acted upon in a context-sensitive manner. When relevant affordances are highly weighted, their attentional capture and their salience increase the probability of them being enacted due to the associated expectation for minimizing prediction error. This process is known as active inference. In the digital era, individuals need to infer the action-related attributes of digital cues, here characterized as digital affordances. The digital affordances of digital social platforms are of particular interest here. Digital social affordances are defined as online possibilities of social interactions. By their own nature, these are salient because they are related to social interactions and relevant social cues. However, the problem of digital social platforms is that they are not equivalent to situated social interactions because their structure is built, mediated, and defined by third-parties with diverse interests. The third-parties behind the digital social platforms are using the same mechanism exploited by culture to manipulate the shared patterns of attention. Moreover, digital social platforms are deliberately designed to be hyper-stimulating, making digital social affordances highly rewarding and increasingly salient. This appropriation, for economic purposes, is an issue of great importance, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic brought deep global changes, pushing societies to an online digital way of life. Here, we examined different types of digital social affordances under an active inference view, placing them into two categories, those for self-identity formation, and those for belief-updating. This paper aims to analyze digital social affordances in light of the prediction error dynamics they might elicit to their users. Although each of the analyzed digital social affordances allows different epistemic and instrumental digital actions, they all share the characteristic of having an "easy" and a fast expected rate of error reduction. Here, we aim to provide a new hypothesis about how the design behind digital social affordances is built on our natural attractiveness to minimize prediction error and the resulting positive embodied feelings when doing so. Finally, it is suggested that because digital social affordances are becoming highly weighted in the field of affordances, this might be putting at risk our context-sensitive grip on a rich, dynamic and varied field of relevant affordances.
... Mastery motivation interventions can also focus on the learning process by encouraging autonomy and affective teaching (e.g., Sakiz, 2017;Schiefele & Schaffner, 2015), help the child see the value of trying and supporting learners' efforts (e.g., Vansteenkiste et al., 2004) as well as eliciting curiosity (e.g., Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). ...
Thesis
The overall goal of this study is to enhance school readiness assessment in Kenya by developing an easy-to-use tablet-based android app that can support teachers and learners during the assessment of Pre-academic skills, Mastery Motivation (MM) and Executive Functions (EF) in the Kenyan context. We operationalised MM and EF as components of Approaches to Learning (ATL): one of the poorly assessed domains of school readiness. This research was based on the theory of ATL and followed a non-experimental longitudinal research design. One study was a Scoping Review that identified the gap in the literature in the assessment of School Readiness domains using game-like apps. This study formed the basis for developing Finding Out Children's Unique Strengths (FOCUS) app for Kenya following Education Design Research Approach. Two studies tested and evaluated the psychometric properties of the FOCUS app in the Kenyan context. Another two empirical studies focused on adapting the Preschool Dimension of Mastery Questionnaire 18 (DMQ 18) and the Childhood Executive Functioning (CHEXI) to complement the assessment of MM and EF, respectively. In addition, one study addressed the role played by MM and EF on school academic performance. A total of 40 teachers, 497 preschool and 535 grade 1 children were involved in this study. Both parametric and non-parametric statistical analyses were used to analyse the generated data. The FOCUS app, CHEXI and DMQ 18 fit well with the data and exhibited strong psychometric properties, thus being suitable for the Kenyan context. Furthermore, both MM and EF were directly and indirectly, involved in grade one children's academic performance. FOCUS app tasks, pre-academic skills, and number and letter search tasks at preprimary II strongly predicted preschool and grade one academic performance. MM assessed using the FOCUS app as a better predictor of academic performance than the DMQ 18. Interventions to improve MM and EF promise to enhance School Readiness in the Kenyan context. The FOCUS app can greatly complement Kenya School Readiness Test to give teachers and parents a broader spectrum to make correct decisions concerning the child.
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Completion of partly occluded objects is a ubiquitous phenomenon in human visual perception. It is unclear, however, whether it occurs at all in other species: Studies on visual discrimination learning have revealed that animals usually attend to parts and features of the discriminative stimuli rather than to global object properties. We provide here the first demonstration of recognition of partly occluded objects in a bird species, the domestic chick Gallus gallus, using the naturalistic setting made available by filial imprinting, a process whereby young birds form attachments to their mothers or some artificial substitute. In Experiment 1, newborn chicks were reared singly with a red cardboard triangle, to which they rapidly imprinted and therefore treated as a social partner. On Day 3 of life, the chicks were presented with pairs of objects composed of either isolated fragments or occluded parts of the imprinting stimulus. Chicks consistently chose to associate with complete or with partly occluded versions of the imprinting object rather than with separate fragments of it. Similarly, in Experiment 2, chicks reared with a partly occluded triangle chose to associate with a complete triangle rather than with fragmented one, whereas chicks reared with a fragmented triangle chose to associate with a fragmented triangle and not with a complete one. Newborn chicks thus appear to behave as if they could experience amodal completion.
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The ability to interpret the behavior of other individuals is essential for effective social functioning. Many investigators now believe that even young infants can recognize that agents act toward goals. Here we report three experiments suggesting that 12-month-old infants not only can recognize goal-related action, but also can interpret future actions of an actor on the basis of previously witnessed behavior in another context. The possibility that this inference is made through the attribution of mental states is discussed.