Publications of Senju, A.

Do 18-month-olds really attribute mental states to others? A critical test

The current study investigated whether 18-months-olds attribute opaque mental states when they solve false belief tests, or simply rely on behavioural cues available in the stimuli. Infants experienced either a trick blindfold that looked opaque but could be seen through, or an opaque blindfold. Then both groups of infants observed an actor wearing the same blindfold that they had themselves experienced, whilst a puppet removed an object from its location. Anticipatory eye movements revealed that infants who experienced the opaque blindfold expected the actor’s action in accord with her having a false belief about the object's location, but infants who experienced the trick blindfold did not. The results suggest that 18-months-olds used self-experience with the blindfold to assess the actor's visual access, and updated her knowledge/belief state accordingly. These data constitute compelling evidence that 18-months-olds infer perceptual access and appreciate its causal role in altering epistemic states of others.

Automated gaze-contingent objects elicit orientation following in 8-month-old infants

The current study tested whether the purely amodal cue of contingency elicit orientation following behaviour in 8-months-old infants. We presented 8-month-old infants with automated objects without human features that did or did not react contingently to the infants' fixations recorded by an eye-tracker. We found that an object's occasional orientation towards peripheral targets was reciprocated by a congruent visual orientation following response by infants only when it had displayed gaze-contingent interactivity. Our finding demonstrates that infants' gaze following behaviour does not depend on the presence of a human being. The results are consistent with the idea that the detection of contingent reactivity, like other communicative signals, can itself elicit the illusion of being addressed in 8-months-old infants.

Absence of spontaneous action anticipation by false belief attribution in children with autism spectrum disorder

Recently, a series of studies demonstrated false belief understanding in young children through completely nonverbal measures. These studies have revealed that children younger than 3 years of age, who consistently fail the standard verbal false belief test, can anticipate others’ actions based on their attributed false beliefs. The current study examined whether children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who are known to have difficulties in the verbal false belief test, may also show such action anticipation in a nonverbal false belief test.We presented video stimuli of an actor watching an object being hidden in a box. The object was then displaced while the actor was looking away. We recorded children’s eye movements and coded whether they spontaneously anticipated the actor’s subsequent behavior, which could only have been predicted if they had attributed a false belief to her. Although typically developing children correctly anticipated the action, children with ASD failed to show such action anticipation. The results suggest that children with ASD have an impairment in false belief attribution, which is independent of their verbal ability.

Gaze following in human infants depends on communicative signals

Humans are extremely sensitive to ostensive signals, like eye contact or having their name called, that indicate someone's communicative intention toward them [1-3]. Infants also pay attention to these signals [4-6], but it is unknown whether they appreciate their significance in the initiation of communicative acts. In two experiments, we employed video presentation of an actor turning toward one of two objects and recorded infants' gaze-following behavior [7-13] with eye tracking techniques [11, 12]. We found that 6-month-old infants followed the adult's gaze (a potential communicative-referential signal) toward an object only when such an act is preceded by ostensive cues such as direct gaze (experiment 1) and infant-directed speech (experiment 2). Such a link between the presence of ostensive signals and gaze-following suggests that this behavior serves a functional role in assisting infants to effectively respond to referential communication directed to them. Whereas gaze following in many nonhuman species supports social information gathering [14-18], in humans it initially appears to reflect the expectation of a more active, communicative role from the information source.

Understanding the referential nature of looking: Infants' preference for object-directed gaze

In four experiments, we investigated whether 9-month-old infants are sensitive to the relationship between gaze direction and object location and whether this sensitivity depends on the presence of communicative cues like eye contact. Infants observed a face, which repeatedly shifted its eyes either toward, or away from, unpredictably appearing objects. We found that they looked longer at the face when the gaze shifts were congruent with the location of the object. A second experiment ruled out that this effect was simply due to spatial congruency, while a third and a fourth experiment revealed that a preceding period of eye contact is required to elicit the gaze-object congruency effect. These results indicate that infants at this age can encode eye direction in referential terms in the presence of communication cues and are biased to attend to scenes with object-directed gaze. (c) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Action anticipation through attribution of false belief by 2-year-olds

Two-year-olds engage in many behaviors that ostensibly require the attribution of mental states to other individuals. Yet the overwhelming consensus has been that children of this age are unable to attribute false beliefs. In the current study, we used an eyetracker to record infants' looking behavior while they watched actions on a computer monitor. Our data demonstrate that 25-month-old infants correctly anticipate an actor's actions when these actions can be predicted only by attributing a false belief to the actor.