The communicative interactions of very young children almost always involve language (based on conventions), gesture (based on bodily deixis or iconicity) and directed gaze. In this study, ninety-six children (3;0 years) were asked to determine the location of a hidden toy by understanding a communicative act that contained none of these familiar means. A light-and-sound mechanism placed behind the hiding place and illuminated by a centrally placed switch was used to indicate the location of the toy. After a communicative training (...) session, an experimenter pressed the switch either deliberately or accidentally, and with or without ostension (in the form of eye contact and child-directed speech). In no condition did she orient towards the hiding place. When the switch was pressed intentionally, children used the light-and-sound cue to find the toy - and tended to do so even in the absence of ostensive eye contact. When the experimenter pressed the switch accidentally, children searched randomly - demonstrating that they were tracking her communicative intent, and not merely choosing on the basis of salience. The absence of an effect of ostension contradicts research that ostension helps children to interpret the communicative intentions underlying unfamiliar signs. We explain this by concluding that while it may play a role in establishing a communicative interaction, it is not necessary for sustaining one; and that even with a highly novel communicative act - involving none of the means of communication on which children typically rely - three-year-olds can comprehend the communicative intentions behind an intentionally produced act. (shrink)
This paper investigates whether an abstract linguistic construction shows the kind of prototype effects characteristic of non-linguistic categories, in both adults and young children. Adapting the prototype-plus-distortion methodology of Franks and Bransford (1971), we found that whereas adults were lured toward false-positive recognition of sentences with prototypical transitive semantics, young children showed no such effect. We examined two main implications of the results. First, it adds a novel data point to a growing body of research in cognitive linguistics and construction (...) grammar that shows abstract linguistic categories can behave in similar ways to non-linguistic categories, for example, by showing graded membership of a category. Thus, the findings lend psychological validity to the existing cross-linguistic evidence for prototypical transitive semantics. Second, we discuss a possible explanation for the fact that prototypical sentences were processed differently in adults and children, namely, that children’s transitive semantic network is not as interconnected or cognitively coherent as adults’. (shrink)
Children often refer to things ambiguously but learn not to from responding to clarification requests. We review and explore this learning process here. In Study 1, eighty-four 2- and 4-year-olds were tested for their ability to request stickers from either (a) a small array with one dissimilar distracter or (b) a large array containing similar distracters. When children made ambiguous requests, they received either general feedback or specific questions about which of two options they wanted. With training, children learned to (...) produce more complex object descriptions and did so faster in the specific feedback condition. They also tended to provide more information when requesting stickers from large arrays. In Study 2, we varied only distracter similarity during training and then varied array size in a generalization test. Children found it harder to learn in this case. In the generalization test, 4-year-olds were more likely to provide information (a) when it was needed because distracters were similar to the target and (b) when the array size was greater (regardless of need for information). We discuss how clear cues to potential ambiguity are needed for children to learn to tailor their referring expression to context and how several cues of heuristic value (e.g., more distracters > say more) can promote the efficiency of communication while language is developing. Finally, we consider whether it would be worthwhile drawing on the human learning process when developing algorithms for the production of referring expressions. (shrink)
Social norms have played a key role in the evolution of human cooperation, serving to stabilize prosocial and egalitarian behavior despite the self-serving motives of individuals. Young children’s behavior mostly conforms to social norms, as they follow adult behavioral directives and instructions. But it turns out that even preschool children also actively enforce social norms on others, often using generic normative language to do so. This behavior is not easily explained by individualistic motives; it is more likely a result of (...) children’s growing identification with their cultural group, which leads to prosocial motives for preserving its ways of doing things. (shrink)
Young children interpret some acts performed by adults as normatively governed, that is, as capable of being performed either rightly or wrongly. In previous experiments, children have made this interpretation when adults introduced them to novel acts with normative language (e.g. ‘this is the way it goes’), along with pedagogical cues signaling culturally important information, and with social-pragmatic marking that this action is a token of a familiar type. In the current experiment, we exposed children to novel actions with no (...) normative language, and we systematically varied pedagogical and social-pragmatic cues in an attempt to identify which of them, if either, would lead children to normative interpretations. We found that young 3-year-old children inferred normativity without any normative language and without any pedagogical cues. The only cue they used was adult socialpragmatic marking of the action as familiar, as if it were a token of a well-known type (as opposed to performing it, as if inventing it on the spot). These results suggest that – in the absence of explicit normative language – young children interpret adult actions as normatively governed based mainly on the intentionality (perhaps signaling conventionality) with which they are performed. (shrink)
Mintz (2003) found that in English child-directed speech, frequently occurring frames formed by linking the preceding (A) and succeeding (B) word (A_x_B) could accurately predict the syntactic category of the intervening word (x). This has been successfully extended to French (Chemla, Mintz, Bernal, & Christophe, 2009). In this paper, we show that, as for Dutch (Erkelens, 2009), frequent frames in German do not enable such accurate lexical categorization. This can be explained by the characteristics of German including a less restricted (...) word order compared to English or French and the frequent use of some forms as both determiner and pronoun in colloquial German. Finally, we explore the relationship between the accuracy of frames and their potential utility and find that even some of those frames showing high token-based accuracy are of limited value because they are in fact set phrases with little or no variability in the slot position. (shrink)
As the cognitive revolution was slow to come to the study of animal behavior, the vast majority of what we know about primate cognition has been discovered in the last 30 years. Building on the recognition that the physical and social worlds of humans and their living primate relatives pose many of the same evolutionary challenges, programs of research have established that the most basic cognitive skills and mental representations that humans use to navigate those worlds are already possessed by (...) other primates. There may be differences between humans and other primates, however, in more complex cognitive skills, such as reasoning about relations, causality, time, and other minds. Of special importance, the human primate seems to possess a species-unique set of adaptations for “cultural intelligence,” which are broad reaching in their effects on human cognition. (shrink)
Chimpanzees follow the gaze of conspecifics and humans — follow it past distractors and behind barriers, ‘check back’ with humans when gaze following does not yield interesting sights, use gestures appropriately depending on the visual access of their recipient, and select different pieces of food depending on whether their competitor has visual access to them. Taken together, these findings make a strong case for the hypothesis that chimpanzees have some understanding of what other individuals can and cannot see. However, chimpanzees (...) do not seem nearly so skillful in the Gesture Choice and Object Choice experimental paradigms. Neither behavioral conditioning nor theory of mind explanations can account for these results satisfactorily. Instead this chapter proposes the idea that chimpanzees have the cognitive skills to recall, represent, categorize, and reason about the behavior and perception of others, but not their intentional or mental states, because they do not know that others have such states since they cannot make a link to their own. Human beings began their own evolutionary trajectory with these same skills, but then at some point in their evolution (probably quite recently) they began to understand that their own experience could serve as some kind of model for that of other persons. This allowed for even better prediction and control of the behavior of others and better communication and cooperation with them as well, and so it was an adaptation with immediate adaptive consequences that ensured its survival. (shrink)
As Bruner so eloquently points out, and Gauvain echoes, human beings are unique in their “locality.” Individual groups of humans develop their own unique ways of symbolizing and doing things – and these can be very different from the ways of other groups, even those living quite nearby. Our attempt in the target article was to propose a theory of the social-cognitive and social-motivational bases of humans' ability and propensity to live in this local, that is, this cultural, way – (...) which no other species does – focusing on such things as the ability to collaborate and to create shared material and symbolic artifacts. (shrink)
We propose that the crucial difference between human cognition and that of other species is the ability to participate with others in collaborative activities with shared goals and intentions: shared intentionality. Participation in such activities requires not only especially powerful forms of intention reading and cultural learning, but also a unique motivation to share psychological states with others and unique forms of cognitive representation for doing so. The result of participating in these activities is species-unique forms of cultural cognition and (...) evolution, enabling everything from the creation and use of linguistic symbols to the construction of social norms and individual beliefs to the establishment of social institutions. In support of this proposal we argue and present evidence that great apes (and some children with autism) understand the basics of intentional action, but they still do not participate in activities involving joint intentions and attention (shared intentionality). Human children's skills of shared intentionality develop gradually during the first 14 months of life as two ontogenetic pathways intertwine: (1) the general ape line of understanding others as animate, goal-directed, and intentional agents; and (2) a species-unique motivation to share emotions, experience, and activities with other persons. The developmental outcome is children's ability to construct dialogic cognitive representations, which enable them to participate in earnest in the collectivity that is human cognition. Key Words: collaboration; cooperation; cultural learning; culture; evolutionary psychology; intentions; shared intentionality; social cognition; social learning; theory of mind; joint attention. (shrink)
Although Bloom gives more credit to social cognition (mind reading) than do most other theorists of word learning, he does not go far enough. He still relies fundamentally on a learning process of association (or mapping), neglecting the joint attentional and cultural learning skills from which linguistic communication emerges at one year of age.
We discuss other recent studies on the acquisition of the German plural that do not support the dual-mechanism model. The attested overgeneralizations are not by default only, nor completely random, but predictable from subregularities based on the grammatical gender and the phonology of the noun. In addition, the dual-mechanism model creates a number of problems for acquisition (theory) rather than solving existing ones.
Byrne & Russon redefine the process of emulation learning as “goal emulation” and thereby distort its most distinctive characteristic: the criterion that the observer focuses on environmental rather than behavioral processes. The two empirical examples recounted – gorilla plant processing and orangutan manipulation of human artifacts – are hierarchically organized behaviors, but there is very little evidence that they involve imitative learning, program-level or otherwise.