Keynote Abstracts



Thursday, September 27, 2018
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff (University of Delaware, US)

Carving events for language

Events are continuous. Our perception of them is not. Remembering the past and predicting the future demand that we parse events into components that will also lay the foundation for language learning. In this talk, we present a series of studies designed to examine infant attention to and interpretation of event structure. Using Mandler (2012) and Talmy (2000) as our inspiration, we find that infants are sensitive to event components like paths and manners and figures and grounds, among others. Infants also detect statistical relationships within event components that allow them to abstract predictable patterns with relatively little exposure. Finally, our work suggests that infants use both bottom up and top down processes to parse continuous events into the categories of experience. We explore several ways in which these new findings on event processing might interface with cognitive development and the acquisition of language.


Thursday, September 27, 2018
Larissa Samuelson (University of East Anglia, UK)

The role of multiple general processes in early word-object mapping and selective attention

Infants are able to learn multiple novel word-object mappings from ambiguous presentations that include multiple objects and multiple words in each event. We have been examining the roles of basic cognitive processes such as attention, memory and novelty-detection in this learning via empirical studies and a computational model. Our work uses the cross-situational word learning paradigm introduced by Smith & Yu (2008). We analyse the relation between looking behaviour during training and later demonstrations of learning and compare data from studies with highly-similar versus more variable stimuli. We find that children who learn more word-object mappings show differences in looking to the learned and unlearned words from the very beginning of training, and this is influenced by the variability inherent in the stimulus set. In addition, the data suggest that looking during test may be driven more by object familiarity than word-object mappings—a finding that fits with recent work on the role of visual familiarity in predicting what words children learn first (Clerkin, et al., 2017). Further, by capturing these findings in a model of autonomous visual exploration and early word learning, we are able show how individual differences in word learning emerge from small initial differences in looking behaviour. I will discuss this work in relation to prior studies of selective attention in word learning and related studies of referent selection and retention.


Friday, September 28, 2018
Victoria Southgate (University of Kopenhagen, DK)

Are infants altercentric? The Other and the Self in early social cognition

Much research in recent years has revealed that humans have a striking tendency to be influenced by the behaviours of other conspecifics. Our own actions can be disrupted by the presence of another person performing a different action, and our own representation of an event can be influenced by the presence of another agent holding a competing representation. In this talk, I will suggest that this ‘altercentric’ stance has its origins early in development, and is the default state for human infants. I will suggest that early altercentricism can explain infants’ tendency towards spontaneous perspective taking, even in situations where adults do not spontaneously adopt the others’ perspective. Furthermore, I will suggest that altercentricism is characterised by an absence of self-other distinction and that altercentricism gradually gives way to a more egocentric cognition as infants acquire a self-awareness and a self-other distinction. As part of my talk, I will present some recent work in which we have begun exploring the development of self-awareness, with a view to testing our hypothesis that the emergence of self-awareness, and a transition from altercentricism to egocentricism could be part of the explanation for the apparently discrepancy between infant and preschooler Theory of Mind skills. 


Friday, September 28, 2018
Tobias Grossmann (University of Virginia, US)

The cradle of human prosociality

One of the most enduring puzzles in biology and psychology is why humans engage in acts of altruism towards genetically unrelated individuals. I will argue in this talk that other-oriented emotional processes play an important role in guiding altruistic behavior from early in ontogeny. In particular, the ability to show concern for others in need and distress is a vital building block for altruistic tendencies among humans. I will first present recent research supporting the view that infants genuinely care about others in need and distress. Importantly, I will also show evidence for a caring continuum, which underpins variability in infant prosocial action. Specifically, I will present results from a longitudinal study in which we demonstrate that differences in attentional and brain responses to viewing others in distress (fearful faces) at 7 months predict altruistic behavior at 14 months of age. This research sheds light on the ontogenetic roots of altruism and attests to infants’ affective competency in engaging prosocially.


Saturday, September 29, 2018
Judit Gervain (Université Paris Descartes and CNRS, France)

Repetition-based rule learning at 6 months in speech and sign: developmental changes

The talk will present a series of NIRS experiments investigating how 6-month-old infants perceive and learn repetition-based regularities (e.g. ABB) implemented in speech as well as in sign language sequences. The results suggest that a change takes place between birth and 6 months, such that by 6 months, infants become able to represent difference (e.g. ABC structures), not only sameness. Also the developmental trajectory of this ability may be different for speech, a signal familiar for infants, than for signs, which infants are not familiar with.