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“Stick to what you’ve learned and go from there”: How infants’ curiosity-based exploration is guided by first experiences and learning progress

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


From infancy, we are driven to explore the world based on our intrinsic curiosity.
However, the cognitive mechanisms underlying such self-directed, curiosity-based exploration remain largely unknown. We assume that learning progress maximization drives engagement with and disengagement from information (e.g., Twomey & Westermann, 2018; Oudeyer, Kaplan, & Hafner, 2007): as we choose to engage with something from which we expect to learn, we eventually disengage when the environment promises higher learning potential. But what promises the highest learning potential in a new environment? It could be that infants engage with whatever they encounter first; or they may first explore the environment to make a somewhat informed decision. Here, we tested this in a novel gaze-contingent eye-tracking paradigm, where infants can freely explore two novel categories (Fribbles) by triggering new exemplars via their looking behaviour. Data from N=67 10-12-month-old infants (Mage=11.11, SD=0.51, 50.8% female)showed that 85.1% of infants had a clear category preference, receiving at least 60% of triggers (Mall=0.80, SD=0.16). Interestingly, this preference corresponded strongly to the category they had triggered first (BF = 1.072e+6; indicative of extreme evidence in support of this effect). It was unclear, however, whether this was because the first trigger was informed by an established preference or whether it created one. An additional regression analysis of the looking behaviour during category introduction suggests that, over and above all other variables, it is indeed the first trigger creating the category preference (β=0.596, p < 0.001). Possibly, the mechanism of triggering and viewing the first exemplar maximises experienced and expected learning progress for that category, reinforcing engagement throughout. Alternatively, this could reflect higher-level sticky-fixations (e.g., Colombo, 2001) in which it requires too much cognitive control to disengage, creating a “forced” preference. Both explanations and further implications will be discussed.

Event (Conference)

Title7th Lancaster International Conference on Infant and Early Child Development
Abbreviated titleLCICD
Degree of recognitionInternational event