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Learning through others. Natural Pedagogy and Mindreading: A possible cooperation



The theory of natural pedagogy provides a model of social learning based on the direct communicative ostensive relation and aimed to the transfer of generic cultural knowledge. The pedagogical transmission of information originates from an explicit manifestation of teaching made by knowledgeable adults, who are naturally inclined to manifestly provide their cultural baggage to naïve conspecifics. The domain of transferable knowledge encompasses artifact functions, novel means actions, first words, gestural symbols, social practices, and rituals. This teaching process can be fast and efficient in virtue of a natural inclination possessed by infants to seek information and decode signals of ostensive communication. In this sense, the natural pedagogy represents, as the two proponents – György Gergey and Gergely Csibra – claim, «a communicative system of mutual design specialized for the fast and efficient transfer of new and relevant cultural knowledge from knowledge able to ignorant conspecifics». This book suggests that natural pedagogy utilises early belief attribution competences, which are employed by infants in a variety of contexts to approach and navigate the social world. Therefore, the natural pedagogy, in cooperation with the early mindreading system, may represent one of the most efficient adaptive strategies to firmly create that deep wittgensteinian «nest of propositions» which build cultural shared beliefs structures to be relied upon and followed.
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We argue that objectivity is acquired by learning to refer to particular situations, that is, by developing episodicity. This contrasts with the widespread idea that genericity is crucial in developing humans’ ability to conceive of an objective world. According to the collective intentionality account, objectivity is acquired by contrasting one’s particular perspective in the “here and now” with a generic group perspective on how things are generally. However, this line of argument rests on confusing two independent notions of genericity: social and worldly genericity. Holding these two notions apart shows that there is no coherent developmental route from episodicity to objectivity via genericity. In effect, the collective intentionality account presupposes objectivity. Alternatively, episodicity may develop by enculturation into the common practice of spatial-indexical use. This ability establishes an initial, socially shared spatiotemporal reference system comprising the basis for objectivity.
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What role does children’s trust in communication play in their acquisition of new meanings? To answer, we report two experimental studies (N = 81) testing how three- to four-year-olds interpret the meaning of a novel communicative device when it is used by a malevolent and potentially deceptive informant. Children participated in a hiding game in which they had to find a reward hidden in one of two boxes. In the initial phase of the experiments, a malevolent informant always indicated the location of the empty box using a novel communicative device, either a marker (Study 1), or an arrow (Study 2). During that phase, 3- and 4-year-olds learned to avoid the box indicated by the novel communicative device. In the second phase of the test, the malevolent informant was replaced by a benevolent one. Nevertheless, children did not change their search strategy, and they kept avoiding the box tagged by the novel communicative device as often as when it had been produced by the malevolent informant. These results suggest that during the initial phase, children (i) did not consider the possibility that the malevolent informant might intend to deceive them, and (ii) did not ignore the unfamiliar communicative signal or treat it as irrelevant. Instead, children relied on the unfamiliar communicative signal to locate the empty box’s location. These results suggest that children’s avoidance of the location indicated by an unfamiliar signal is not unambiguous evidence for distrust of such signal. We argue that children’s trust in ostensive communication is likely to extend to unfamiliar communicative means, and that this presumption of trustworthiness plays a central role in children’s acquisition of new meanings.
I have argued for the merits of the view that assumes two basic and initially independent cognitive systems that have evolved as separate adapta- tions to two different kinds of intentional agency that constitute our uniquely human social-cultural environment, which I called instrumental and communicative agency. The two specialized systems of adaptation have distinct representational and inferential properties and input conditions and the entities belonging to their respective domains are only partially overlapping. While all communicative agents are also instrumental agents, the opposite is not the case and when we recognize instrumental agency, we do not automatically attribute communicative intentions or abilities to such agents. Clearly, however, during early development our core concepts of instrumental and communica- tive agency become integrated in intricate ways (see Carey, 2009) through the establish- ment of representations of the numerous shared properties that are possessed by both kinds of agents (such as, for example, their capacity for rational choice of action). Finally, in considering the representational and inferential properties of our human- specific cognitive adaptations to understand teleological versus communicative agency, I have emphasized the qualitative structural differences that characterize both of these systems when compared to their phylogenetically ancient evolutionary roots that we share with our primate ancestors.
Conference Paper
The meaning of complex expressions ( “two apples”) is derived from the meaning of its constituents (“two”, “apples”) and the structure of the expression. Here, we explored whether preverbal infants apply this principle to compute the meaning of complex noun phrases composed of a familiar common noun and a newly learnt quantity label. Experiment 1 demonstrated that 12-month-olds were able to learn two distinct quantity labels denoting a singleton and a pair. At training, infants saw scenes depicting the target concepts: e.g., 1 duck placed in one location and 2 ducks placed in another location. Both referents were subsequently pointed at and named with a pseudo-word for the singleton (“moxi duck”) and another pseudo-word for the pair (“dax duck”). At test, infants generalized the quantity labels to arrays of new objects. Experiment 2 demonstrated that infants compose the meaning of the quantity labels with the meaning of kind labels. We used the same training as in Exp. 1 followed by a compositionality assessment: presented with four potential referents (1 duck, 2 ducks, 1 ball, 2 balls), infants oriented to the target satisfying the meaning of both labels (one ball) over the distractors satisfying the meaning of the labels separately (two balls, one car). Our findings suggest that preverbal infants combine newly learned quantity labels with familiar kind labels. Such competence, and the complex thoughts it supports, may be at the origin of the powerful combinatorial apparatus serving language learning and human reasoning in general.