Infants' understanding and learning of expected, unexpected and novel actions in pedagogical and non-pedagogical contexts.

Christian Kliesch, Vincent Reid, Anna Theakston, Eugenio Parise presented this talk at the LuCiD Mini Conference held in Manchester, UK in 2016.


Infants interpret actions as goal directed (Hunnius & Bekkering, 2010) and are also sensitive to ostensive communication (Csibra, 2010). When ostensively addressed, infants perceive the informative content of the communication as relevant, meaningful and generalisable (Csibra & Gergely, 2009). In the following studies we ask whether ostensive communication can change the interpretation of a known and arbitrary actions in 9-month-old infants. Study 1 used the N400 ERP component, sensitive to semantic processing. Study 2 (in preparation, data collection to begin) will use eye-tracking to measure anticipatroy looking and pupil dilations in infants’ understanding of action sequences.

Based on Reid et al. (2009), we measured the N400 ERP component in a violation of expectancy paradigm. We investigated 9-month-old infants in a communicative condition and in a non-communicative control condition. In the communicative condition infants were presented with an actor addressing them ostensively (direct eye contact, infant directed speech), and subsequently performing an action that can have an anticipated (e.g. spoon-mouth) or unanticipated outcome (e.g. spoon-ear). Using a HGCS 124 channel EEG system, we tested 35 9-month-old infants, 16 provided usable data. Similar to Reid et al. (2009), we invesitgated group of electrodes in the parietal area e ran an ANOVA for the 600-800ms time window. We found a significant difference between expeted and unexpected outcome (F(1,15) = 8.6, p = .01) with the unexpected condition eliciting a more positive ERP. We did not find a significant communication-byoutcome interaction (F(1,15) = 0.5, p = .40). In addition to our main hypotheses, we found a main effect of communication between 150-200ms, (F(1,15) = 7.4, p
= .02), with communication eliciting a more negative ERP. An analysis of the frontal Nc ERP component, to check for difference in arousal between conditions, revealed no significant interaction or main effects (all p > .50). The current paradigm did not confirm the hypothesis that ostensive communication changes the interpretation of actions in 9-month olds.
In Study 2 investigates infants' anticipatory looking of known, unexpected, and novel action outcomes. In previous research, Hunnius & Bekkering (2010) found that infants can anticipate head- and mouth-directed actions, but fail to anticipate repetitions of unanticipated, non- meaningful actions. However, adults are able to anticipate unexpected action outcomes after a
few exposures. Natural Pedagogy (Csibra & Gergely, 2009) suggests that ostensive signals might facilitate the acquisition of new action information by marking it as type-relevant, and generalise to new presentations of the same action. Therefore we hypothesise that infants might learn to anticipate novel action outcomes in ostensive contexts, but (replicating Hunnius & Bekkering, 2010) not in non-communicative contexts. Ostensive communication might also facilitate the remapping of familiar action outcomes to new goal locations. This study can potentially show how ostensive communication informs the interpretation of novel information in the context of already known information.