Publications of Gervain, J.

Mahr JB, Csibra G. A short history of theories of intuitive theories. In: Gervain J, Csibra G, Kovács K, editors. A Life in Cognition: Studies in Cognitive Science in honor of Csaba Pléh. Springer; In Press.

A short history of theories of intuitive theories

Intui?ve theories are sets of integrated concepts and causal laws that people adopt to comprehend, explain, and predict certain phenomena they encounter in the world. These theories are ‘intui?ve’ because they are thought to drive our intui?ons about how the physical and biological world, the mental life of people, and the society we live in work, without mee?ng the standards of explicit scien?fic theorizing. The proposal that people adopt such theories has been around at least since the 1970s. However, how psychologists think about intui?ve theories has been changing since they have been first proposed. In this chapter, we provide a short overview of the approaches to the func?on of intui?ve theories and belief-forming systems more generally. While early characteriza?on of intui?ve theories emphasized their epistemic func?on, later aSempts took an evolu?onary view, claiming that they serve adap?ve func?ons that are not always aligned with the goal of accurately tracking environmental states. A recent twist in this story is the proposal that shared intui?ve theories may also serve social func?ons by providing a ‘theore?cal common ground’ on which people interpret unobservable en??es, such as memories, character traits, en?tlements, and obliga?ons. Such shared theories might be essen?al for social coordina?on via communica?on.

How 15-month-old infants process morphologically complex forms in an agglutinative language?

While phonological development is well-studied in infants, we know less about morphological development. Previous studies suggest that infants around one year of age can process words analytically (i.e., they can decompose complex forms to a word stem and its affixes) in morphologically simpler languages such as English and French. The current study explored whether 15-month-old infants learning Hungarian, a morphologically complex, agglutinative language with vowel harmony, are able to decompose words into a word stem and a suffix. Potential differences between analytical processing of complex forms with back versus front vowels were also studied. The results of Experiment 1 indicate that Hungarian infants process morphologically complex words analytically when they contain a frequent suffix. Analytic processing is present both in the case of complex forms with back and front vowels according to the results of Experiment 2. In light of the results, we argue for the potential relevance of the early development of analytic processing for language development.

Electrophysiological investigation of infants’ understanding of understanding

Social cognition might play a critical role in language acquisition and comprehension, as mindreading may be necessary to infer the intended meaning of linguistic expressions uttered by communicative partners. In three electrophysiological experiments, we explored the interplay between belief attribution and language comprehension of 14-month-old infants. First, we replicated our earlier finding: infants produced an N400 effect to correctly labelled objects when the labels did not match a communicative partner’s beliefs about the referents. Second, we observed no N400 when we replaced the object with another category member. Third, when we named the objects incorrectly for infants, but congruently with the partner’s false belief, we observed large N400 responses, suggesting that infants retained their own perspective in addition to that of the partner. We thus interpret the observed social N400 effect as a communicational expectancy indicator because it was contingent not on the attribution of false beliefs but on semantic expectations by both the self and the communicative partner. Additional exploratory analyses revealed an early, frontal, positive- going electrophysiological response in all three experiments, which was contingent on infants’ computing the comprehension of the social partner based on attributed beliefs.

Fourteen-month-old infants track the language comprehension of communicative partners

Infants employ sophisticated mechanisms to acquire their first language, including some that rely on taking the perspective of adults as speakers or listeners. When do infants first show awareness of what other people understand? We tested 14-month-old infants in two experiments measuring event-related potentials. In Experiment 1, we established that infants produce the N400 effect, a brain signature of semantic violations, in a live object naming paradigm in the presence of an adult observer. In Experiment 2, we induced false beliefs about the labelled objects in the adult observer to test whether infants keep track of the other person’s comprehension. The results revealed that infants reacted to the semantic incongruity heard by the other as if they encountered it themselves: they exhibited an N400-like response, even though labels were congruous from their perspective. This finding demonstrates that infants track the linguistic understanding of social partners.

Near-infrared spectroscopy: A report from the McDonnell Infant Methodology Consortium

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is a new and increasingly widespread brain imaging technique, particularly suitable for young infants. The laboratories of the McDonnell Consortium have contributed to the technological development and research applications of this technique for nearly a decade. The present paper provides a general introduction to the technique as well as a detailed report of the methodological innovations developed by the Consortium. The basic principles of NIRS and some of the existing developmental studies are reviewed. Issues concerning technological improvements, parameter optimization, possible experimental designs and data analysis techniques are discussed and illustrated by novel empirical data.

Gergely G, Csibra G. A kulturális elme társadalmi konstruálása: az utánzásos tanulás mint humánpedagógiai mechanizmus. In: Gervain J, Kovács K, Lukács Á, Racsmány M, editors. Az ezerarcú elme. Tanulmányok Pléh Csaba 60. születésnapjára. Budapest, Hungary: Akadémiai Kiadó; 2005. p. 371-7.