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Infants learn to follow gaze in stages: Evidence confirming a robotic prediction

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>27/08/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Open Mind
Publication StatusAccepted/In press
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Gaze following is an early-emerging skill in infancy argued to be fundamental to joint attention and later language development. However, how gaze following emerges is a topic of great debate. Representational theories assume that in order to follow adults’ gaze, infants must have a rich sensitivity to adults’ communicative intention from birth. In contrast, learning-based theories hold that infants may learn to gaze follow based on low-level social reinforcement, without the need to understand others’ mental states. Nagai, Asada and Hosoda [Advanced Robotics, 20, 10 (2016)] successfully taught a robot to gaze follow through social reinforcement and found that the robot learned in stages: first in the horizontal plane, and later in the vertical plane – a prediction that does not follow from representational theories. In the current study, we tested this prediction in an eye-tracking paradigm. Six-month-olds did not follow gaze in either the horizontal or vertical plane, whereas 12-month-olds and 18-month-olds only followed gaze in the horizontal plane. These results confirm the core prediction of the robot model, suggesting that children may also learn to gaze follow through social reinforcement coupled with a structured learning environment.