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Chapter 3

Chapter 3

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York University
PSYC 3520

Chapter 3- Animated / inanimated distinction Relationship between social and non-social cognition I argued that infants are born with innate domains that contain representations about people, as well as particular principles on how to interact with them. If that is true, then it follows that infants must have different domains that contain representations of physical objects. That infants have specific domains for interacting with people and objects should not be surprising. This evidence shows that infant discriminations of people and inanimate agents runs deeper and does not depend purely on superficial physical phenomena. Definition of the animate/inanimate distinction They noted that although people and objects are similar in that both have physical properties (size and shape), the two classes are different because only people communicate, grow and reproduce, move independently, have feelings, intentions, and thoughts. Not only do people and objects have different properties, but they are perceived differently. When looking at people, we may initially notice their appearance and their behavior, but we tend to focus primarily on their mental states such as emotions and intentions. Objects do not have inner states and therefore we would only pay attention to the physical characteristics of objects and their functions. As a consequence of these differences, adults interact differently with the two classes. They communicate with people but act on objects. Relationships with people are complex, involving emotions and social rules. These emotions can be strong and may enhance or interfere with subsequent cognitive processes. The emotions aroused when interacting with physical objects are usually less intense, and are the result of whether one is successful or not at accomplishing a task. Theoretical perspectives on the animate/inanimate distinction Because the ability to differentiate people from other things is foundational for human development, theorists as diverse as Piaget, Rheingold, Watson, Bruner, and Trevarthen have described in detail how infants come to distinguish people from things. the innate representations infants have of people allow them to identify people as similar to the self, with emotions and intentions, but not with complex biological processes such as the ideas that people grow and reproduce. These concepts are being constructed with age. Piaget’s view on the animate/inanimate distinction (animism) Because infants have no initial cognitive structures (no innate knowledge), infants at birth are neither social nor cognitive creatures. They gradually learn to differentiate between self, other people, and inanimate objects during the first two years of life, at which time they develop expectations about the behavior of people and recognize that people have intentions. Thus, the traditional Piagetian assumption proposes that an understanding of the social and physical world needs to be constructed through acting on it during the infancy period. Consequently, prior to the concrete operational stage, infants confuse mental and physical events (animism) and they do not differentiate between external and internal states (e.g. talking and thinking). New research has shown that even preschoolers can distinguish between the mental and the physical when verbal tasks are being used, and that infants as young as 18 months begin to treat human behavior as intentional and distinct from that of nonsocial objects when nonverbal tasks are used. By having infants judge two-dimensional information rather than observing infants in social situations one removes essential social cues. This makes the tasks more difficult for infants, and instead of measuring social awareness, one measures the infants’ information processing capacities. Social interactionists showed that when infants were observed with people and nonsocial objects in natural settings, a completely different picture emerged. Already in the second month of life, infants treated people as social objects, smiling, vocalizing, and imitating their actions, whereas they treat nonsocial objects as things to be looked at and goals for attempted reaching. Such differential responsiveness has also been found in infants with Down syndrome, at an age when the infants had approximately the same mental age or level of perceptual cognitive sophistication as the nondelayed infants. Infants as young as 5 weeks will get upset when people refrain from responding, but not when physical objects remain immobile and they will imitate mouth opening and tongue protrusions modeled by people, but they do not react this way to objects simulating these gestures . In addition, 3-month-old infants have different relationships with people than with nonsocial objects. If people are responsive to infants, 3-month-old babies become happy (i.e. coo, smile etc.) and take in subsequent information faster (i.e. habituate to a multimodal stimulus) than if objects act contingently to infant actions. However, if people act in a random way, infants become distressed and fail to habituate to subsequent cognitive tasks. In contrast, if nonsocial objects respond at random to the infants’ actions, this does not upset the infants, and it does not seem to affect their subsequent interactions with the external environment . Thus, even for very young infants, relationships with people evoke more intense emotions than interactions with nonsocial objects, and only the relationships with people seem to affect their motivation to learn. Motion theorists Many recent attempts to explain how the infant’s differential responsiveness to people and nonsocial objects comes about have focused on movement. The authors list the type of motion that differentiates people from objects into the following properties: (1) onset of motion (selfpropelled vs. caused motion), (2) line of trajectory (smooth vs. irregular), (3) causal action (from a distance versus contact), (4) pattern of interaction (contingent vs. noncontingent). Human movements contain most of these four characteristics, and although most theorists emphasize one of the four characteristics over the other, it is understood that the pattern of human interactions is contingent, is self-propelled, have irregular lines of trajectory and are more often caused from a distance. Contingency analysis – Watson Watson proposed that infants had to learn to differentiate between people and objects. He argued that infants were born with an innate module, e.g. a contingency detection mechanism (CDM). During the first 3 months of life, the CDM is preset to prefer perfect contingencies, which enables infants to differentiate between self and the external environment (e.g. the infant puts head on pillow; infant touches mother, etc.). It is not until 3 months of life that the CDM begins to prefer imperfect contingencies. If infants perceive imperfect contingencies between their behavior and rewarding environmental responses, they smile and coo. Thus by 3 months of age, any contingent response stimulus (social and nonsocial) will elicit attention and positive affect in infants. Watson showed that infants can learn about contingencies involving nonsocial objects when in a controlled environment. They tested whether infants would increase the movement of a leg, attached to a rotating mobile, in order to make it move. They exposed 2-month-old infants to ten minutes of noncontingent mobile rotations on each of fourteen consecutive days. When the infants were subsequently brought into the laboratory and allowed to control the movements of the mobile they failed to learn the task (transfer effect). This was in contrast to the experimental infants. Watson, infants use imperfect contingencies to separate people from objects, and because infants do not prefer imperfect contingencies until 3 months of age, they do not differentially respond to people and objects until that age. A more plausible hypothesis has been proposed by Dunham et al. (1989, p. 1494). In that study, 3-month- old infants who had received a contingent reinforcement schedule where the experimenter vocalized and touched the infant’s feet each time the baby vocalized responded with social behaviors (smiled and cooed), and on a subsequent transfer task showed more initial interest and habituated quicker to a multimodal stimulus than infants who had received non-contingent stimulation. The ‘‘use of social stimulation during the contingent/non-contingent pretreatment phases of the paradigm may be of critical importance in the transfer effects that were obtained.’’ If by 3 months infants are more sensitive to contingent responding of people than of objects (when the reinforcement schedule is controlled), then infant social behavior cannot be a generalized response to activity levels as suggested by Watson (1985). Rather the infants’ affective states may be the result of the dynamics of the communicative exchanges infants have with their social partners. This has important implications for social and cognitive development of infants because it suggests that certain social experiences can produce changes in 3-month-old infants that generalize (transfer) to cognitive functioning. It can be expected that if experienced continuously, inadequate interactive signals of either the infant or the caregiver could have long-term consequences for further development. The responses of 3-month-old infants to persons and objects that interacted with the infants at two levels of contingency were contrasted in two experiments. In Experiment 1, contingent responding of people and objects was controlled. In Experiment 2, the facial/vocal dynamics were controlled as well as contingent responding. In both experiments, contingent interaction had different effects on infants, depending on whether the ‘‘actor’’ was a person or an object. In addition, the contingency and person/object variables influenced infants’ states of attention to a nonsocial stimulus on subsequent transfer tasks. Specifically, infants who experienced contingent interactions with people exhibited positive affect and exposed themselves to subsequent higher levels of stimulation than infants who experienced non-contingent interactions with people. These infants exhibited negative affective states and exposed themselves to very low levels of subsequent stimulation. In contrast, infants who experienced contingent and non-contingent interactions with objects did not show such variation in emotional expressions. Instead they produced primarily neutral facial expressions in all conditions and did not show very high nor very low levels of interest for the multimodal stimulus on the subsequent transfer task. By responding differentially to people and objects despite similar contingent movements and face-like features of both the person and the object (a doll), infants indicated that they had rudimentary categories of the two classes that did not rely on these features. Watson would perhaps explain the results by arguing that the perception of contingency initially defines the category ‘social’ for infants, but that the history of contingency learning (variable social reinforcement versus immediate nonsocial reinforcement) from birth to 3 months creates a difference in 3-month-old infants’ reactions to nonsocial objects. However, it is difficult to see how infants can form social and nonsocial categories from birth to 3 months through a process of differential conditioning. Although by 3 months of age infants may have had ample practice playing contingency games with people, it is likely that in the natural world infants would have had little experience with objects to perceive and analyze ‘‘perfect and clear contingencies’’ given their limited motor abilities (e.g. reaching and grasping) to manipulate and act on objects independently. Watson (1972, p. 1087) himself states that during the first two to three months, the combination of slow response recovery and short contingency memory prohibits the infant of becoming aware of contingencies between his behavior and its stimulus effects in the physical environment. Motion alone is not enough -Gelman The results of the Legerstee study suggest that rather than having an innate ability to perceive contingencies, infants have domain specific knowledge by which to recognize people and thus separate them from inanimate objects. For instance, Gelman and Kaufman argued that infants are born with domain specific structures which draw infants’ attention to the various details that distinguish animates from inanimates. The animate structures specify that people (and other animates) are capable of selfgenerated movements and the inanimate structures specify that objects need agents to move them. According to Gelman, infants interpret perceptual information from both movement and external features when drawing conclusions about the animate/inanimate distinction. However, even if infants are aware that animates can move by themselves and should look a certain way, it would seem that in order to classify animates as human, they need to appreciate that humans act according to certain social rules. Various authors view the ability to perceive intentions in others as a prerequisite to a conceptual understanding of people. They argue that it allows for a clear differentiation between the social and the physical. Rakison and Poulin-Dubois agree that in addition to various forms of movement, psychological features (goal- directed vs. no aim) and an influence of mental states (intentional vs. accidental) are used by infants to make the animate/inanimate distinction. the perception of movements or bodily acts that are ‘‘like me’’ has been provided as the basis for the animate/inanimate distinction in infants. These positions essentially assume that there is a time in the life of the infant that they are asocial creatures. What is the evidence for such proposition? On the theoretical front Baldwin proposes that very early in life infants respond to ‘‘suggestions of personality’’ in the behavior of others and thereby differentiate people from other things. on the perceptual level, infants react differently to people and objects soon after birth, suggesting that infants are born with a preference for social stimuli and an ability to interact with them, but they also recognize people as similar to the self because they imitate people, but not inanimate agents simulating these gestures . Thus infants noticed the movements of social and nonsocial stimuli but only imitated those produced by social objects. Note that the Legerstee study contradicts the idea that the appearance of any ‘‘self moving object’’ provides infants with the notion that they are facing a social object. This imitative responsiveness of infants to people and not to physical objects not only suggests that imitation is a social response, but it would support the contention put forth by Gelman and Spelke that ‘‘the infant implicitly ‘knows’ that he and another person can act in kind.’’ This is particularly important in face to face interaction during the early days. Infants do not only imitate the non-affective facial gestures (tongue protrusion and mouth opening as presented in the laboratory), but they also imitate human emotions during natural interactions (Field, Woodson, Greenberg, and Cohen, 1982). Thus, in addition to revealing a preference for people over inanimate objects, infants perceive similarities between the human model and the self and consequently engage in communicative matching with them. By imitating the emotions of others, infants share affect, and become aware of equivalences between their own and others’ mental states. This early, simple recognition of people as similar becomes multifaceted through more sophisticated forms of affective exchanges. It is through these inter-subjective forms of interaction that a more complex conceptual understanding of a person is constructed. Thus through a process of self-organization and the role of adults as co-regulators, infants advance in emotional awareness which would seem essential to the infants’ own intentional behavior and an awareness of mental states in others. infants are born with endogenous processes to perceive people as similar to them. This recognition is not based on movement, facial features, hands, or cross-modal equivalences; rather, it is based on affective awareness. It is this innate affective awareness that allows infants to perceive others to be ‘‘like me.’’ Subsequent sharing of emotions allows infants to recognize their own mental states as well as providing a glimpse into the mental states of others. The importance of affective sharing is underscored by empirical evidence demonstrating the negative consequences when caretakers lack emotional sensitivity in their interactions with infants. Infant abilities to differentiate between people and objects: the first 6 months The finding that infants can imitate proprioceptive actions (which they cannot see themselves perform) during the first 8– 10 months of life contradicts the accounts of classical constructivists (Piagetian) and social learning theorists. According to these theorists, infants do not have endogenous processes or crossmodal perceptual abilities to recognize that they are like other people. Instead, infants have to learn through manual indices (touching the face of their caretaker and then the self ) or conditioning that their faces are similar to that of their conspecifics. As a result, infants would only become able to imitate proprioceptive actions such as facial features by the end of the first year. As noticed, between birth and 3 months, infants discriminate in their responses between people and objects when perceptual cues are controlled for. Infants’ responses to people appear social in nature. Cognitive developmental theorists but also learning theorists would view such data merely as preferential responding to some type of stimulation originating from people but not from objects. Although so far I have discussed infants’ appreciation of the differences between people and objects in paradigms where the different perceptual stimuli were controlled, it is still possible that infants were responding to the perception of some other, partially confounding stimulus dimension. As discussed earlier, when presented with people and objects, infants communicate with people and manipulate toys. To determine whether this finding was the result of a more profound awareness of people rather than of perceptually available indices, I conducted a study in which the
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