Active learners: Behavioural and neural mechanisms of selective social learning in infancy
Even in their first year of life, infants appear to allocate their attention and guide their exploration in a way that ensures maximal information gain. While young children’s active role in gathering information and generating evidence has been an enduring theme of investigation in the domain of children’s play and exploration, it has been largely neglected in the field of social learning. Given that learning from people is one of the most prominent ways in which infants acquire knowledge in everyday life, the research presented in this talk aimed at investigating infants’ active involvement in the process of social transmission of knowledge. With the first set of studies we demonstrate that infants have means of soliciting information from social partners behaviourally, and that responding to infants' behaviour affects what information they subsequently learn. The second line of research investigated the neural underpinnings of infants' active and selective learning. We demonstrate that, like in animals and adults, EEG theta oscillations are predictive of infants learning and can be utilised to investigate infants' selective engagement and learning based on their interests and on the reliability of information sources they interact with. The results will be discussed in the broader context of nurturing young children's curiosity and the possible reinterpretation of classical group psychology studies in light of our findings.