[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Socioeconomic status (SES) has a documented impact on brain and cognitive development. We demonstrate that engaging spatial selective attention mechanisms may counteract this negative influence of impoverished environments on early learning. We previously used a spatial cueing task to compare target object encoding in the context of basic orienting (“facilitation”) versus a spatial selective attention orienting mechanism that engages distractor suppression (“IOR”). This work showed that object encoding in the context of IOR boosted 9-month-old infants’ recognition memory relative to facilitation (Markant & Amso, 2013). Here we asked whether this attention-memory link further interacted with SES in infancy. Results indicated that SES was related to memory but not attention orienting efficacy. However, the correlation between SES and memory performance was moderated by the attention mechanism engaged during encoding. SES predicted memory performance when objects were encoded with basic orienting processes, with infants from low-SES environments showing poorer memory than those from high-SES environments. However, SES did not predict memory performance among infants who engaged selective attention during encoding. Spatial selective attention engagement mitigated the effects of SES on memory and may offer an effective mechanism for promoting learning among infants at risk for poor cognitive outcomes related to SES.
Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Visual attention functions as a filter to select environmental information for learning and memory, making it the first step in the eventual cascade of thought and action systems. Here, we review studies of typical and atypical visual attention development and explain how they offer insights into the mechanisms of adult visual attention. We detail interactions between visual processing and visual attention, as well as the contribution of visual attention to memory. Finally, we discuss genetic mechanisms underlying attention disorders and how attention may be modified by training.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Statistical relationships between human vision and natural scene statistics have been addressed. Contrast is
fundamental image property. We proposed that infant visual exploration and learning development could be analyzed using contrast entropy minimization. Ten infants viewed 16 naturalistic images. Fixations of the infants were recorded. Infant gaze patterns are compared between individual infants. Infants are compared to the fixations predicted by the contrast entropy minimization. The results show that infant tends to have different gaze patterns, and infant entropy drops gradually as fixations are made.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: This study examined whether the developmental transition from facilitation- based orienting mechanisms available very early in life to selective attention orienting (e.g., inhibition of return, IOR) promotes better learning and memory in infancy. We tested a single age group (4-month-olds) undergoing rapid development of attention orienting mechanisms. Infants completed a spatial cueing task designed to elicit IOR, in which cat or dog category exemplars consistently appeared in either the cued or noncued locations. Infants were subsequently tested on a visual paired comparison of exemplars from these cued and noncued animal categories. As expected, infants showed either facilitation-based orienting or the more mature IOR-based orienting during spatial cueing/encoding. Infants who demonstrated IOR- based orienting showed memory for both specific exemplars and broader category learning, whereas those who showed facilitation-based orienting showed weaker evidence of learning. Attention orienting also interacted with previous pet experience, such that the number of pets at home influenced learning only when infants engaged facilitation-based orienting during encoding. Learning in the context of IOR-based orienting was stable regard- less of pet experience, suggesting that selective attention serves as an online learning mechanism during visual exploration that is less sensitive to prior experience.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Television can be a powerful education tool; however, content-makers must understand the factors that engage attention and promote learning from screen media. Prior research suggests that social engagement is critical for learning and that interactivity may enhance the educational quality of children's media. The present study examined the effects of increasing the social interactivity of television on children's visual attention and word learning. Three- to 5-year-old (MAge = 4;5 years, SD = 9 months) children completed a task in which they viewed videos of an actress teaching them the Swahili label for an on-screen image. Each child viewed these video clips in four conditions that parametrically manipulated social engagement and interactivity. We then tested whether each child had successfully learned the Swahili labels. Though 5-year-old children were able to learn words in all conditions, we found that there was an optimal level of social engagement that best supported learning for all participants, defined by engaging the child but not distracting from word labeling. Our eye-tracking data indicated that children in this condition spent more time looking at the target image and less time looking at the actress's face as compared to the most interactive condition. These findings suggest that social interactivity is critical to engaging attention and promoting learning from screen media up until a certain point, after which social stimuli may draw attention away from target images and impair children's word learning.
No preview · Article · Apr 2015 · Journal of Cognition and Development
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Our recent work, using both computer-animated and natural images, demonstrates that infants' eye movements are sequentially structured. In particular, we employ a simple recurrent network (SRN) to estimate the learnability of infants' gaze sequences. The current study directly compares this learnability metric with infants' global looking time on a trial-by-trial basis, during both an habituation display and two posthabituation test displays. The results confirmed our prediction that the relative learnability of infants' gaze sequences during the latter part of the habituation phase predicts global looking time. We also found that learnability during the later habituation trials predicts looking time to one of the two posthabituation test displays. These findings provide support for our hypothesis that infants' visual exploration is guided implicitly by the goal to generate gaze patterns that are sequentially predictable.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The transition from middle childhood into adolescence is marked by both increasing independence and also extensive change in the daily requirements of familial demands, social pressures, and academic achievement. To manage this increased complexity, children must develop the ability to use abstract rules that guide the choice of behavior across a range of circumstances. Here, we tested children through adults in a task that requires increasing levels of rule abstraction, while separately manipulating competition among alternatives in working memory. We found that age-related differences in rule-guided behavior can be explained in terms of improvement in rule abstraction, which we suggest involves a working memory updating mechanism. Furthermore, family socioeconomic status (SES) predicted change in rule-guided behavior, such that higher SES predicted better performance with development. We discuss these results within a working memory gating framework for abstract rule-guided behavior.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Previous work has demonstrated that patterns of social attention hold predictive value for language development in typically developing infants. The goal of this research was to explore how patterns of attention in autistic, language delayed, and typically developing children relate to early word learning and language abilities. We tracked patterns of eye movements to faces and objects while children watched videos of a woman teaching them a series of new words. Subsequent test trials measured participants' recognition of these novel word-object pairings. Results indicated that greater attention to the speaker's mouth was related to higher scores on standardized measures of language development for autistic and typically developing children (but not for language delayed children). This effect was mediated by age for typically developing, but not autistic children. When effects of age were controlled for, attention to the mouth among language delayed participants was negatively correlated with standardized measures of language learning. Attention to the speaker's mouth and eyes while she was teaching the new words was also predictive of faster recognition of those words among autistic children. These results suggest that language delays among children with autism may be driven in part by aberrant social attention, and that the mechanisms underlying these delays may differ from those in language delayed participants without autism.
Full-text · Article · May 2014 · Frontiers in Psychology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We are pursuing the hypothesis that visual exploration and learning in young infants is achieved by producing gaze-sample sequences that are sequentially predictable. Our recent analysis of infants' gaze patterns during image free-viewing (Schlesinger and Amso, 2013) provides support for this idea. In particular, this work demonstrates that infants' gaze samples are more easily learnable than those produced by adults, as well as those produced by three artificial-observer models. In the current study, we extend these findings to a well-studied object-perception task, by investigating 3-month-olds' gaze patterns as they view a moving, partially occluded object. We first use infants' gaze data from this task to produce a set of corresponding center-of-gaze (COG) sequences. Next, we generate two simulated sets of COG samples, from image-saliency and random-gaze models, respectively. Finally, we generate learnability estimates for the three sets of COG samples by presenting each as a training set to an SRN. There are two key findings. First, as predicted, infants' COG samples from the occluded-object task are learned by a pool of simple recurrent networks faster than the samples produced by the yoked, artificial-observer models. Second, we also find that resetting activity in the recurrent layer increases the network's prediction errors, which further implicates the presence of temporal structure in infants' COG sequences. We conclude by relating our findings to the role of image-saliency and prediction-learning during the development of object perception.
Preview · Article · May 2014 · Frontiers in Psychology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Effective attention and memory skills are fundamental to typical development and essential for achievement during the formal education years. It is critical to identify the specific mechanisms linking efficiency of attentional selection of an item and the quality of its memory retention. The present study capitalized on the spatial cueing paradigm to examine the role of selection via suppression in modulating children and adolescents’ memory encoding. By varying a single parameter, the spatial cueing task can elicit either a simple orienting mechanism (i.e., facilitation) or one that involves both target selection and simultaneous suppression of competing information (i.e., IOR). We modified this paradigm to include images of common items in target locations. Participants were not instructed to learn the items and were not told they would be completing a memory test later. Following the cueing task, we imposed a 7-min delay and then asked participants to complete a recognition memory test. Results indicated that selection via suppression promoted recognition memory among 7–17 year-olds. Moreover, individual differences in the extent of suppression during encoding predicted recognition memory accuracy. When basic cueing facilitated orienting to target items during encoding, IQ was the best predictor of recognition memory performance for the attended items. In contrast, engaging suppression (i.e., IOR) during encoding counteracted individual differences in intelligence, effectively improving recognition memory performance among children with lower IQs. This work demonstrates that engaging selection via suppression during learning and encoding improves memory retention and has broad implications for developing effective educational techniques.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: This study examined the contribution of visual salience to bottom-up attention orienting to faces in cluttered natural scenes across development. We eye tracked participants 4 months to 24 years of age as they freely viewed 16 natural scenes, all of which had faces in them. In half, the face was also the winner-take-all salient area in the display as determined by the MATLAB SaliencyToolbox. In the other half, a random location was the winner-take-all salient area in the display and the face was visually non-salient. We found that proportion of attended faces, in the first second of scene viewing, improved after the first year. Visually salient faces attracted bottom-up attention orienting more than non-salient faces reliably and robustly only after infancy. Preliminary data indicate that this shift to use of visual salience to guide bottom-up attention orienting after infancy may be a function of stabilization of visual skills. Moreover, sociodemographic factors including number of siblings in the home and family income were agents of developmental change in orienting to faces in cluttered natural scenes in infancy.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Effective attention and memory skills are fundamental to typical development and essential for achievement during the formal education years. It is critical to identify the specific mechanisms linking efficiency of attentional selection of an item and the quality of its memory retention. The present study capitalized on the spatial cueing paradigm to examine the role of selection via suppression in modulating children and adolescents’ memory encoding. By varying a single parameter, the spatial cueing task can elicit either a simple orienting mechanism (i.e., facilitation) or one that involves both target selection and simultaneous suppression of competing information (i.e., IOR). We modified this paradigm to include images of common items in target locations. Participants were not instructed to learn the items and were not told they would be completing a memory test later. Following the cueing task, we imposed a seven-minute delay and then asked participants to complete a recognition memory test. Results indicated that selection via suppression promoted recognition memory among 7-17 year-olds. Moreover, individual differences in the extent of suppression during encoding predicted recognition memory accuracy. When basic cueing facilitated orienting to target items during encoding, IQ was the best predictor of recognition memory performance for the attended items. In contrast, engaging suppression (i.e, IOR) during encoding counteracted individual differences in intelligence, effectively improving recognition memory performance among children with lower IQs. This work demonstrates that engaging selection via suppression during learning and encoding improves memory retention and has broad implications for developing effective educational techniques.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Newborn babies look preferentially at faces and face-like displays, yet over the course of their first year much changes about both the way infants process visual stimuli and how they allocate their attention to the social world. Despite this initial preference for faces in restricted contexts, the amount that infants look at faces increases considerably during the first year. Is this development related to changes in attentional orienting abilities? We explored this possibility by showing 3-, 6-, and 9-month-olds engaging animated and live-action videos of social stimuli and also measuring their visual search performance with both moving and static search displays. Replicating previous findings, looking at faces increased with age; in addition, the amount of looking at faces was strongly related to the youngest infants' performance in visual search. These results suggest that infants' attentional abilities may be an important factor in facilitating their social attention early in development.
No preview · Article · Nov 2013 · Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The present study examined the hypothesis that inhibitory visual selection mechanisms play a vital role in memory by limiting distractor interference during item encoding. In Experiment 1a we used a modified spatial cueing task in which 9-month-old infants encoded multiple category exemplars in the contexts of an attention orienting mechanism involving suppression (i.e. inhibition of return, IOR) versus one that does not (i.e. facilitation). At test, infants in the IOR condition showed both item-specific learning and abstraction of broader category information. In contrast, infants in the facilitation condition did not discriminate across novel and familiar test items. Experiment 1b confirmed that the learning observed in the IOR condition was specific to spatial cueing of attention and was not due to timing differences across the IOR and facilitation conditions. In Experiment 2, we replicated the results of Experiment 1, using a within-subjects design to explicitly examine learning and memory encoding in the context of concurrent suppression. These data show that developing inhibitory selective attention enhances efficacy of memory encoding for subsequent retrieval. Furthermore, these results highlight the importance of considering interactions between developing attention and memory systems.
No preview · Article · Nov 2013 · Developmental Science
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We propose that free viewing of natural images in human infants can be understood and analyzed as the product of intrinsically-motivated visual exploration. We examined this idea by first generating five sets of center-of-gaze (COG) image samples, which were derived by presenting a series of natural images to groups of both real observers (i.e., 9-month-olds and adults) and artificial observers (i.e., an image-saliency model, an image-entropy model, and a random-gaze model). In order to assess the sequential learnability of the COG samples, we paired each group of samples with a simple recurrent network, which was trained to reproduce the corresponding sequence of COG samples. We then asked whether an intrinsically-motivated artificial agent would learn to identify the most successful network. In Simulation 1, the agent was rewarded for selecting the observer group and network with the lowest prediction errors, while in Simulation 2 the agent was rewarded for selecting the observer group and network with the largest rate of improvement. Our prediction was that if visual exploration in infants is intrinsically-motivated-and more specifically, the goal of exploration is to learn to produce sequentially-predictable gaze patterns-then the agent would show a preference for the COG samples produced by the infants over the other four observer groups. The results from both simulations supported our prediction. We conclude by highlighting the implications of our approach for understanding visual development in infants, and discussing how the model can be elaborated and improved.
Preview · Article · Oct 2013 · Frontiers in Psychology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We examined the impact of simultaneous bottom-up visual influences and meaningful social stimuli on attention orienting in young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Relative to typically-developing age and sex matched participants, children with ASDs were more influenced by bottom-up visual scene information regardless of whether social stimuli and bottom-up scene properties were congruent or competing. This initial reliance on bottom-up strategies correlated with severity of social impairment as well as receptive language impairments. These data provide support for the idea that there is enhanced reliance on bottom-up attention strategies in ASDs, and that this may have a negative impact on social and language development.
Full-text · Article · Sep 2013 · Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The behavioral and neurobiological connections between play and the development of critical cognitive functions, such as attention, remain largely unknown. We do not yet know how these connections relate to the formation of specific abilities, such as spatial ability, and to learning in formal environments, such as in the classroom. Insights into these issues would be beneficial not only for understanding play, attention, and learning individually, but also for the development of more efficacious systems for learning and for the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders. Different operational definitions of play can incorporate or exclude varying types of behavior, emphasize varying developmental time points, and motivate different research questions. Relevant questions to be explored in this area include, How do particular kinds of play relate to the development of particular kinds of abilities later in life? How does play vary across societies and species in the context of evolution? Does play facilitate a shift from reactive to predictive timing, and is its connection to timing unique or particularly significant? This report will outline important research steps that need to be taken in order to address these and other questions about play, human activity, and cognitive functions.
Full-text · Article · Jun 2013 · Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences