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The role of social signals in segmenting observed actions in 18-month-old children

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article numbere13198
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/05/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Developmental Science
Issue number3
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date17/12/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Learning about actions requires children to identify the boundaries of an action and its units. Whereas some action units are easily identified, parents can support children's action learning by adjusting the presentation and using social signals. However, currently, little is understood regarding how children use these signals to learn actions. In the current study, we investigate the possibility that communicative signals are a particularly suitable cue for segmenting events. We investigated this hypothesis by presenting 18-month-old children (N = 60) with short action sequences consisting of toy animals either hopping or sliding across a board into a house, but interrupting this two-step sequence either (a) using an ostensive signal as a segmentation cue, (b) using a non-ostensive segmentation cue and (c) without additional segmentation information between the actions. Marking the boundary using communicative signals increased children's imitation of the less salient sliding action. Imitation of the hopping action remained unaffected. Crucially, marking the boundary of both actions using a non-communicative control condition did not increase imitation of either action. Communicative signals might be particularly suitable in segmenting non-salient actions that would otherwise be perceived as part of another action or as non-intentional. These results provide evidence of the importance of ostensive signals at event boundaries in scaffolding children's learning.