Publications of Topal, J.

Response to Comment on “Infants’ Perseverative Search Errors Are Induced by Pragmatic Misinterpretation

Spencer et al. argue that infants’ perseverative search errors cannot be ascribed to an interpretive bias induced by communicative cues as we proposed. We argue that their model leads to different predictions about infant behavior from those derived from natural pedagogy in certain situations and therefore fails to provide a viable alternative to ours.

Differential sensitivity to human communication in dogs, wolves and human infants

Ten-month-old infants search for a hidden object persistently at its initial hiding place even after observing it being hidden at another location. Recent evidence suggests that communicative cues from the experimenter contribute to the emergence of this perseverative search error. Here we replicate these results with dogs, who also commit more search errors in ostensive-communicative (in 75% of the total trials) than in non-communicative (39%) or non-social (17%) hiding contexts. However, comparative investigations suggest that communicative signals serve different functions for dogs and infants, while human-reared wolves do not show dog-like context-dependent differences of search errors. We propose that shared sensitivity to human communicative signals stems from convergent social evolution of the Homo and the Canis genera.

Infants' perseverative errors are induced by pragmatic misinterpretation.

Having repeatedly retrieved an object from a location, human infants tend to search the same place even when they observe the object being hidden at another location. This perseverative error is usually explained by infants' inability to inhibit a previously rewarded search response or to recall the new location. We show that the tendency to commit this error is substantially reduced (from 81 to 41%) when the object is hidden in front of 10-month-old infants without the experimenter using the communicative cues that normally accompany object hiding in this task. We suggest that this improvement is due to an interpretive bias that normally helps infants learn from demonstrations but misleads them in the context of a hiding game. Our finding provides an alternative theoretical perspective on the nature of infants' perseverative search errors