Publications of Téglás, E.

Can infants adopt underspecified contents into attributed beliefs? Representational prerequisites of theory of mind

Recent evidence suggests that young infants, as well as nonhuman apes, can anticipate others’ behavior based on their false beliefs. While such behaviors have been proposed to be accounted by simple associations between agents, objects, and locations, human adults are undoubtedly endowed with sophisticated theory of mind abil- ities. For example, they can attribute mental contents about abstract or non-existing entities, or beliefs whose content is poorly specified. While such endeavors may be human specific, it is unclear whether the represen- tational apparatus that allows for encoding such beliefs is present early in development. In four experiments we asked whether 15-month-old infants are able to attribute beliefs with underspecified content, update their content later, and maintain attributed beliefs that are unknown to be true or false. In Experiment 1, infants observed as an agent hid an object to an unspecified location. This location was later revealed in the absence or presence of the agent, and the object was then hidden again to an unspecified location. Then the infants could search for the object while the agent was away. Their search was biased to the revealed location (that could be represented as the potential content of the agent’s belief when she had not witnessed the re-hiding), suggesting that they (1) first attributed an underspecified belief to the agent, (2) later updated the content of this belief, and (3) were primed by this content in their own action even though its validity was unknown. This priming effect was absent when the agent witnessed the re-hiding of the object, and thus her belief about the earlier location of the object did not have to be sustained. The same effect was observed when infants searched for a different toy (Experiment 2) or when an additional spatial transformation was introduced (Experiment 4), but not when the spatial transformation disrupted belief updating (Experiment 3). These data suggest that infants’ representational apparatus is prepared to efficiently track other agents’ beliefs online, encode underspecified beliefs and define their content later, possibly reflecting a crucial characteristic of mature theory of mind: using a meta- representational format for ascribed beliefs.

Precursors of logical reasoning in preverbal human infants

Infants are able to entertain hypotheses about complex events and to modify them rationally when faced with inconsistent evidence. These capacities suggest that infants can use elementary logical representations to frame and prune hypotheses. By presenting scenes containing ambiguities about the identity of an object, here we show that 12- and 19-month-old infants look longer at outcomes that are inconsistent with a logical inference necessary to resolve such ambiguities. At the moment of a potential deduction, infants’ pupils dilated, and their eyes moved toward the ambiguous object when inferences could be computed, in contrast to transparent scenes not requiring inferences to identify the object. These oculomotor markers resembled those of adults inspecting similar scenes, suggesting that intuitive and stable logical structures involved in the interpretation of dynamic scenes may be part of the fabric of the human mind.

Seeing behind the surface: Communicative demonstration boosts category disambiguation in 12-month-olds

In their first years, infants acquire an incredible amount of information regarding the objects present in their environment. While often it is not clear what specific information should be prioritized in encoding from the many characteristics of an object, different types of object representations facilitate different types of generalizations. We tested the hypotheses that one-year-old infants distinctively represent familiar objects as exemplars of their kind, and that ostensive communication plays a role in determining kind membership for ambiguous objects. In the training phase of our experiment, infants were exposed to movies displaying an agent sorting objects from two categories (cups and plates) into two locations (left or right). Afterwards, different groups of infants saw either an ostensive or a non-ostensive demonstration performed by the agent revealing that a new object that looked like a plate can be transformed into a cup. A third group of infants experienced no demonstration regarding the new object. During test, infants were presented with the ambiguous object in the plate format, and we measured generalization by coding anticipatory looks to the plate or the cup side. While infants looked equally often towards the two sides when the demonstration was non-ostensive, and more often to the plate side when there was no demonstration, they performed more anticipatory eye movements to the cup side when the demonstration was ostensive. Thus, ostensive demonstration likely highlighted the hidden dispositional properties of the target object as kind-relevant, guiding infants’ categorization of the foldable cup as a cup, despite that it looked like a plate. These results suggest that infants likely encode familiar objects as exemplars of their kind and that ostensive communication can play a crucial role in disambiguating what kind an object belongs to, even when this requires disregarding salient surface features.

Infants anticipate probabilistic but not deterministic outcomes

Recent evidence suggests that preverbal infants’ gaze following can be triggered only if an actor’s head turn is preceded by the expression of communicative intent. Such connectedness between ostensive and referential signals may be uniquely human, enabling infants to effectively respond to referential communication directed to them. In the light of increasing evidence of dogs’ social communicative skills, an intriguing question is whether dogs’ responsiveness to human directional gestures is associated with the situational context in an infant-like manner. Borrowing a method used in infant studies, dogs watched video presentations of a human actor turning toward one of two objects, and their eye-gaze patterns were recorded with an eye tracker. Results show a higher tendency of gaze following in dogs when the human’s head turning was preceded by the expression of communicative intent (direct gaze, addressing). This is the first evidence to show that (1) eye-tracking techniques can be used for studying dogs’ social skills and (2) the exploitation of human gaze cues depends on the communicatively relevant pattern of ostensive and referential signals in dogs. Our findings give further support to the existence of a functionally infant-analog social competence in this species.

Numerical representations and intuitions of probabilities at 12 months

Recent evidence suggests that preverbal infants’ gaze following can be triggered only if an actor’s head turn is preceded by the expression of communicative intent. Such connectedness between ostensive and referential signals may be uniquely human, enabling infants to effectively respond to referential communication directed to them. In the light of increasing evidence of dogs’ social communicative skills, an intriguing question is whether dogs’ responsiveness to human directional gestures is associated with the situational context in an infant-like manner. Borrowing a method used in infant studies, dogs watched video presentations of a human actor turning toward one of two objects, and their eye-gaze patterns were recorded with an eye tracker. Results show a higher tendency of gaze following in dogs when the human’s head turning was preceded by the expression of communicative intent (direct gaze, addressing). This is the first evidence to show that (1) eye-tracking techniques can be used for studying dogs’ social skills and (2) the exploitation of human gaze cues depends on the communicatively relevant pattern of ostensive and referential signals in dogs. Our findings give further support to the existence of a functionally infant-analog social competence in this species.

Pointing as epistemic request: 12-month-olds point to receive new information

Infants start pointing systematically to objects or events around their first birthday. It has been proposed that infants point to an event in order to share their appreciation of it with others. In the current study, we tested another hypothesis, according to which infants' pointing could also serve as an epistemic request directed to the adult. Thus, infants' motivation for pointing could include the expectation that adults would provide new information about the referent. In two experiments, an adult reacted to 12-month-olds’ pointing gestures by exhibiting 'informing' or 'sharing' behavior. In response, infants pointed more frequently across trials in the informing than in the sharing condition. This suggests that the feedback that contained new information matched infants' expectations more than mere attention sharing. Such a result is consistent with the idea that not just the comprehension but also the production of early communicative signals is tuned to assist infants' learning from others.

Dog's gaze following is tuned to human communicative signals

Recent evidence suggests that preverbal infants’ gaze following can be triggered only if an actor’s head turn is preceded by the expression of communicative intent. Such connectedness between ostensive and referential signals may be uniquely human, enabling infants to effectively respond to referential communication directed to them. In the light of increasing evidence of dogs’ social communicative skills, an intriguing question is whether dogs’ responsiveness to human directional gestures is associated with the situational context in an infant-like manner. Borrowing a method used in infant studies, dogs watched video presentations of a human actor turning toward one of two objects, and their eye-gaze patterns were recorded with an eye tracker. Results show a higher tendency of gaze following in dogs when the human’s head turning was preceded by the expression of communicative intent (direct gaze, addressing). This is the first evidence to show that (1) eye-tracking techniques can be used for studying dogs’ social skills and (2) the exploitation of human gaze cues depends on the communicatively relevant pattern of ostensive and referential signals in dogs. Our findings give further support to the existence of a functionally infant-analog social competence in this species.

The probable and the possible at 12 months: intuitive reasoning about the uncertain future

Recent evidence suggests that preverbal infants’ gaze following can be triggered only if an actor’s head turn is preceded by the expression of communicative intent. Such connectedness between ostensive and referential signals may be uniquely human, enabling infants to effectively respond to referential communication directed to them. In the light of increasing evidence of dogs’ social communicative skills, an intriguing question is whether dogs’ responsiveness to human directional gestures is associated with the situational context in an infant-like manner. Borrowing a method used in infant studies, dogs watched video presentations of a human actor turning toward one of two objects, and their eye-gaze patterns were recorded with an eye tracker. Results show a higher tendency of gaze following in dogs when the human’s head turning was preceded by the expression of communicative intent (direct gaze, addressing). This is the first evidence to show that (1) eye-tracking techniques can be used for studying dogs’ social skills and (2) the exploitation of human gaze cues depends on the communicatively relevant pattern of ostensive and referential signals in dogs. Our findings give further support to the existence of a functionally infant-analog social competence in this species.

Pure reasoning in 12-month-old infants as probabilistic inference

Many organisms can predict future events from the statistics of past experience, but humans also excel at making predictions by pure reasoning: integrating multiple sources of information, guided by abstract knowledge, to form rational expectations about novel situations, never directly experienced. Here, we show that this reasoning is surprisingly rich, powerful, and coherent even in preverbal infants. When 12-month-old infants view complex displays of multiple moving objects, they form time-varying expectations about future events that are a systematic and rational function of several stimulus variables. Infants’ looking times are consistent with a Bayesian ideal observer embodying abstract principles of object motion. The model explains infants’ statistical expectations and classic qualitative findings about object cognition in younger babies, not originally viewed as probabilistic inferences.

Communicative function demonstration induces kind-based artifact representation in preverbal infants

Recent evidence suggests that preverbal infants’ gaze following can be triggered only if an actor’s head turn is preceded by the expression of communicative intent. Such connectedness between ostensive and referential signals may be uniquely human, enabling infants to effectively respond to referential communication directed to them. In the light of increasing evidence of dogs’ social communicative skills, an intriguing question is whether dogs’ responsiveness to human directional gestures is associated with the situational context in an infant-like manner. Borrowing a method used in infant studies, dogs watched video presentations of a human actor turning toward one of two objects, and their eye-gaze patterns were recorded with an eye tracker. Results show a higher tendency of gaze following in dogs when the human’s head turning was preceded by the expression of communicative intent (direct gaze, addressing). This is the first evidence to show that (1) eye-tracking techniques can be used for studying dogs’ social skills and (2) the exploitation of human gaze cues depends on the communicatively relevant pattern of ostensive and referential signals in dogs. Our findings give further support to the existence of a functionally infant-analog social competence in this species.

Intuitions of probabilities shape expectations about the future at 12 months and beyond

Rational agents should integrate probabilities in their predictions about uncertain future events. However, whether humans can do this, and if so, how this ability originates, are controversial issues. Here, we show that 12-month-olds have rational expectations about the future based on estimations of event possibilities, without the need of sampling past experiences. We also show that such natural expectations influence preschoolers’ reaction times, while frequencies modify motor responses, but not overt judgments, only after 4 years of age. Our results suggest that at the onset of human decision processes the mind contains an intuition of elementary probability that cannot be reduced to the encountered frequency of events or elementary heuristics.