Pedagogical cues and action complexity affect transmission of information in two-year-old children.

Bazhydai, M., Silverstein, P., Westermann, G., Parise, E. (2018). Pedagogical cues and action complexity affect transmission of information in two-year-old children. Poster presented at the 21st biennial meeting of the International Conference of Infant Studies, Philadelphia, USA. 


It has been argued that both pedagogical communication (using explicit teaching- oriented verbal cues, direct eye contact, and child-directed speech; Csibra & Gergely, 2009) and intentional but non-pedagogical communication allow for learning to occur (e.g., Gopnik & Schulz, 2004). While receptivity to information presented using both intentional and pedagogical cues has been studied extensively, children's active transmission of information following these cues is understudied. For example, Vredenburgh, Kushnir and Casasola (2015) showed that 2-year-olds are more likely to demonstrate an action to an adult after being shown it in a pedagogical than in an intentional but non-pedagogical context, despite having learnt both actions equally well.

In the current study we aimed to replicate this finding, and extend it by investigating whether manipulating action complexity as well as pedagogical cues when demonstrating an action selectively affects the likelihood of the action being shown to an ignorant adult. Exp. 1. In a pre-test phase, 24-month-old children (N = 20) interacted with two unfamiliar adults who demonstrated to them two actions leading to a comparable outcome. One demonstrator showed an action in an intentional, but non-pedagogical manner, while the other showed another action in a pedagogical manner by using explicit verbal cues ("This is how you do it!"), direct eye contact, and child-directed speech. At test, the children were then encouraged to show an ignorant familiar adult who was not present during demonstrations how to play with the toy. We measured which action they performed first, as well as the time spent performing both actions at transmission. There were two trials with two novel toys, resulting in a total of four action demonstrations and two transmission phases. While children showed both actions during transmission, they were more likely to perform the pedagogically demonstrated action first (see Figure 1a). These results are in the same direction as the previous findings (Vredenburgh, Kushnir, & Casasola, 2015), but no statistical analyses have been performed, as data collection is ongoing. Exp. 2. To investigate how other factors mediate this effect, we manipulated both pedagogical demonstration and action complexity in a second experiment (N = 31). At pre-test, one demonstrator showed a simpler action in a non-pedagogical manner, while the other showed a more complex action in a pedagogical manner. As in Exp. 1, children showed both actions during transmission, but were significantly more likely to demonstrate the simple action first (see Figure 1b), even though it was presented without the explicit pedagogical cues (t(30) = -2.68, p < 0.01). Natural pedagogy theory (Csibra & Gergely, 2009) predicts that even when the action is more complex, children still transmit this action preferentially, as they have interpreted the action as kind-generalisable knowledge to be taught to another conspecific. However, as we found instead that less complex actions are transmitted preferentially, this may favour a salience-based interpretation of our findings. Pedagogical cues and ease of execution both enhance the saliency of an action, increasing the likelihood of children transmitting this action first. However, when pitted against each other, ease of execution wins.