2010-2015 ERC ADVANCED GRANT: Human Infants' preparedness for relevance-guided learning through ostensive-referential communication (OSTREFCOM) led by Gergely Csibra

A recent hypothesis (the theory of 'natural pedagogy') proposes that an important function of human ostensive-referential communication is to allow the transmission of generic (semantic) knowledge to others. The primary potential beneficiaries of such a communication system are children, who are always novices with respect to the culture they are born into. This proposal aims to explore whether and how human infants are prepared to learn from adults through communication, what cognitive and neural systems support such learning process, and how this social learning process changes infants' perception, interpretation and representation of the world. Beyond traditional behavioural methods, we plan to use eye-tracking, electrophysiological (EEG, ERP) and optical imaging (NIRS) techniques to get insights about the online processes of perception, attention and memory during, as well as the understanding of the social and physical world through, non-verbal communication. In particular, we seek to track (1) the early development of sensitivity to various ostensive-communicative signals, (2) their relation to the understanding of referential deictic gestures, which is essential to be engaged in triadic communication, (3) how these signals modulate what infants pay attention to and preserve in their memory about objects, and (4) how the functional understanding of human-made cultural artefacts (such as tools) is affected by their demonstrated use in ostensive-referential communicative settings. The new framework theory of natural pedagogy will also provide a novel perspective to elucidate how further cognitive systems, such as the understanding of actions or causal relations, as well as the processes of imitation and word learning contribute to cultural learning by communication.