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· 19 November 2018 ·

How infants use communicative signals

Last month I submitted my PhD at the Lancaster University. As part of the LuCiD project, I investigated how infants use communicative signals, such as addressing a child by looking at them or speaking to them in so-called infant-directed speech changes. According to Natural Pedagogy, a widely discussed theory in developmental psychology, infants come to this world with a basic sensitivity towards signals that tell them that they are communicated with—and expect that adults engaging with them will show them something meaningful to learn and apply in other contexts. The first two studies that I did as part of my PhD looked at how addressing children before showing them an action increases children’s expectation that these actions are meaningful using EEG and eye tracking. For example, children expect an adult to put a spoon to the mouth, rather than the ear. But does looking and addressing children raise their expectation that the spoon should go to the mouth?

However, there is also another way that communicative signals can be useful in action learning. An important aspect of learning an action is understanding how to break it up into small chunks that can be made sense of. Read the full article over at the Lucid Research Blog

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· 22 February 2017 ·

You’re clever for your kids’ sake: A feedback loop between intelligence and early births

The gap between our cognitive skills and that of our closest evolutionary ancestors is quite astonishing. Within a relatively short evolutionary time frame humans developed a wide range of cognitive abilities and bodies that are very different to other primates and animals. Many of these differences appear to be related to each other. A recent paper by Piantadosi and Kidd argues that human intelligence originates in human infants’ restriction of their birth size, leading to premature births and long weaning times that require intensive and intelligent care. This is an interesting hypothesis that links the ontogeny of the body with cognition.

Read the full article over at Replicated Typo

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· 15 June 2016 ·

I know (1) that you think (2) it’s funny, and you know (3) that I know (4) that, too.

A large part of human humour depends on understanding that the intention of the person telling the joke might be different to what they are actually saying. The person needs to tell the joke so that you understand that they’re telling a joke, so they need to to know that you know that they do not intend to convey the meaning they are about to utter… Things get even more complicated when we are telling each other jokes that involve other people having thoughts and beliefs about other people. We call this knowledge nested intentions, or recursive mental attributions. We can already see, based on my complicated description, that this is a serious matter and requires scientific investigation. Fortunately, a recent paper by Dunbar, Launaway and Curry (2015) investigated whether the structure of jokes is restricted by the amount of nested intentions required to understand the joke and they make a couple of interesting predictions on the mental processing that is involved in processing humour, and how these should be reflected in the structure and funniness of jokes. In today’s blogpost I want to discuss the paper’s methodology and some of its claims.

Read the full article over at Replicated Typo

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· 12 October 2015 ·

Posture helps robots learn words, and infants, too!

What kind of information do children and infants take into account when learning new words? And to what extent do they need to rely on interpreting a speakers intention to extract meaning? A paper by Morse, Cangelosi and Smith (2015), published in PLoS One, suggests that bodily states such as body posture might be used by infants to acquire word meanings in the absence of the object named. To test their hypothesis, the authors ran a series of experiments using a word learning task with infants—but also a self-learning robot, the iCub.

Read the full article over at Replicated Typo.

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· 6 April 2013 ·

Sticking the tongue out: Early imitation in infants

The nativism-empiricism debate haunts the fields of language acquisition and evolution on more than just one level. How much of children’s social and cognitive abilities have to be present at birth, what is acquired through experience, and therefore malleable? Classically, this debate resolves around the poverty of stimulus. How much does a child have to take for granted in her environment, how much can she learn from the input?

Research into imitation has its own version of the poverty of stimulus, the correspondence problem. The correspondence problem can be summed up as follows: when you are imitating someone, you need to know which parts of your body map onto the body of the person you’re trying to imitate. If they wiggle their finger, you can establish correspondence by noticing that your hand looks similar to theirs, and that you can do the same movement with it, too. But this is much trickier with parts of your body that are out of your sight. If you want to imitate someone sticking their tongue out, you first have to realise that you have a tongue, too, and how you can move it in such a way that it matches your partner’s movements.

Read the full article over at Replicated Typo.

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· 2 April 2013 ·

Gender biases on the job market in academia: There are already quotas, but they are implicit

The issue of supporting quotas for supporting women in board room positions and academia are highly contested: Is it really fair that women receive extra support through guaranteed quotas during the application process? Does this not bias the employment process, whereas less qualified personnel was employed? In a blog post over at the LSE’s Engenderings, Linnea Sandström has made a case in favour of quotas, and I want to present some research here that suggests that there is already an implicit selection process favouring one sex over the other—only that it works in favour of men, and that this imbalance is not just attributable to life style choices. Rather, there is a bias direct against female applicants, even when the information about the applicant is the same. Therefore, quotas are about balancing an already existing bias, rather than introducing a new one.

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· 4 May 2012 ·

Presenting at the LEL Postgraduate conference: Implicit and Explicit Iterative Mindreading

I will present a paper on my dissertation topic, iterative mind-reading, at this year’s LEL postgraduate conference. This work is based on a collaboration with Cathleen O’Grady, under the supervision of Kenny Smith and Thom Scott-Phillips.

You can find the abstract here:

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· 15 April 2012 ·

Baseline testosterone in hunter-gatherer societies: Actually not that high.

A recent article by Trumble et al. (2012) investigates testosterone levels in the Tsimane, hunter-gatherer society in the Bolivian Amazon. They organised a competitive football match between eight different Tsimane villages (Seriously, how cool is that – organising a football match as part of your research?), tested testosterone levels of the (male) players men before and after a match and compared these to testosterone levels in an age-matched male US sample. The authors have two key-findings: On the one hand, both groups show increased testosterone levels in a competitive football match. On the other hand, baseline testosterone levels are lower in the Tsimane.

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· 12 August 2011 ·

Good news!

This arrived in my inbox today:

Dear Christian Kliesch,

I would like to inform you that your paper “Making sense of syntax – Innate or acquired? Contrasting Universal Grammar with other approaches to language acquisition” has been accepted.

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· 8 March 2011 ·

How can this be...?

A man and his son were away for a trip. They were driving along the highway when they had a terrible accident. The man was killed outright but the son was alive, although badly injured. The son was rushed to the hospital and was to have an emergency operation. On entering the operating theatre, the surgeon looked at the boy, and said, “I can’t do this operation. This boy is my son.” How can this be?

(Source: Sanford, A. J. (1985). Cognition and cognitive psychology. London:Weidenfeld and Nicolson.)

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