Publications of Téglás, E.

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.

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.

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.

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.