Invited Speakers

Below you will find the list of invited speakers and their Talk summaries



Katarina Begus (13.00 - 14.00)

Information seeking in infancy


Curiosity is critical for learning and one of the main predictors of academic success. Yet, we know little about its mechanisms, development, or sources of variability in this trait. Differences in how much information seeking behaviours individuals express are evident already by age 2. These differences may be shaped by experience and can have critical consequences for learning. I investigate information seeking during infants’ first years of life, using both behavioural and neural measures. In this talk, I will present a series of studies demonstrating that even very young infants are active learners, with means of soliciting information from their environment and with mechanisms of selective engagement and learning; in contexts of social learning, exploration, and causal reasoning. Finally, I will discuss potential sources of variability in infants' information seeking, and ideas for how these can be investigated.



Katarina Begus (14.30 - 16.00)

What is theta and how to use it for studying active learning 







Clare Kirtley (09.00 - 12.30)

Head-mounted eye-tracker

(Workshop - only available for those attending in person)


Mobile eye-tracking allows us to take many of our questions about perception and action out of the lab and into real world environments, where we can investigate how these settings might impact the way our gaze questions the world. However, using a mobile tracker can seem daunting in terms of study design and data analysis. In this workshop, I will talk a little about the importance of real world research for investigations into vision and action (as well as some of the potential issues that might arise). Then, using the Positive Science mobile eye-tracker as my reference, I will walk through the typical process of setting up a real world tracking study. From calibration approaches to potential measures, I will consider the steps that need to be taken to ensure you have solid data from your research, and highlight possible problem areas to be aware of. Finally, I will demonstrate an online calibration and tracking process. 



Marina Loucaides (14.00 - 15.00)

Head-mounted eye-tracker



A discussion on personal experience and obstacles when collecting data using the eye-tracker. 



Jason Babcock  (15.30 - 16.30)

Learning Annotating fixations with GazeTag (and basic tools to plot the results)



There are a number of ways to approach the analysis of head mounted eye-tracking video data. This talk discusses one approach using GazeTag, a software application which extracts thumbnails from fixation instances in video-based, head mounted, eye-tracking gaze data, and provides a human assisted, semi-automated, UI for quickly labeling (i.e. tagging) those instances. We will also show some extra steps to get started plotting and visualizing the data from a GazeTag export.







Victoria Leong (09.00 - 10.00)

Learning through parent-infant social interactions: A dyadic neuroscience perspective


During early life, temporally-coordinated social interactions between infants and caregivers – such as during play - provide a powerful stimulant for learning. Yet current neuroscience frameworks do not address how social interactive behaviour potentiates learning in the infant brain. Recent evidence suggests that human infants are capable of spontaneous neural synchronisation with adults during social interaction, and levels of parent-infant neural synchronisation predict communicative efficacy and social learning. In this talk, I will present a dyadic neuroscience perspective for understanding how parents use ‘Natural Pedagogy’, enacted through ostensive signals such as eye contact and infant-directed speech, to attune fine-grained neural oscillatory processes between themselves and their children, creating synchronised brain states for learning. I will further discuss how playful social interactions afford optimal opportunities for the emergence of synchronised behaviour and brain activity, thereby potentiating early learning.



Azzurra Ruggeri (10.30 - 11.30)

The emergence and developmental trajectory of active and ecological learning


This talk will introduce the Ecological Learning framework, which focuses on children’s ability to adapt and tailor their active learning strategies to the particular structure and characteristics of a learning environment. In particular, I will present the results of several seminal studies indicating that efficient, adaptive search strategies emerge around 3 years of age, much earlier than previously assumed. This work highlights the importance of developing age-appropriate paradigms that capture children's early competence to gain a more comprehensive and fair picture of their active learning abilities. Also, it offers a process-oriented theoretical framework that can accommodate and reconcile a sparse but growing body of work documenting children’s active and adaptive learning.



Kou Murayama (11.30 - 12.30)

A reward-learning framework of knowledge acquisition: How can we integrate the concepts of curiosity, interest, and intrinsic-extrinsic rewards?


Recent years have seen a considerable surge of research on interest-based engagement, examining how and why people are engaged in activities without relying on extrinsic rewards. However, the field of inquiry has been somewhat segregated into three different research traditions which have been developed relatively independently --- research on curiosity, interest, and trait curiosity/interest. We identify “long-term development” as a critical factor that links different research traditions, and set out an integrative perspective called the reward-learning framework of knowledge acquisition. This framework takes on the basic premise of existing reward-learning models of information seeking: that knowledge acquisition serves as an inherent reward, which reinforces people’s information-seeking behavior through a reward-learning process. Critically, however, the framework reveals how the knowledge-acquisition process is sustained and boosted over a long period of time in real-life settings (i.e., self-boosting effect), allowing us to integrate the different research traditions within reward-learning models. The framework also characterizes the knowledge-acquisition process with four distinct features that are not present in the reward-learning process with extrinsic rewards --- (1) selectivity, (2) vulnerability, and (3) under-appreciation. Finally, we discuss implications of the proposed framework regarding the debate over the conceptualization of broad concepts, namely; curiosity, interest, and intrinsic-extrinsic rewards.



Denis Mareschal (14.00 - 15.00)

Children's active learning in a multisensory world 


We live and develop in a multisensory world, and yet almost all learning studies have focussed on learning in one sensory modality alone. Part of development and is actively identifying what the most informative sensory stream is and how to weight information that comes from different streams actively and in response to changes in the environment. In this task I will present work exploring how children select between visual, auditory and haptic/motor information when learning categories in a multisensory world. I will also explore how children weight the sensory information streams and selectively choose to attend to one or more modalities at a time.



Rachit Dubey (15.00 - 16.00)

Understanding exploration by formalizing the function of curiosity


Curiosity is considered to be the essence of science and an integral component of cognition, yet our understanding of curiosity remains limited. In this talk, I will present a rational model that provides a functional explanation of curiosity. Our theory unifies previous distinct theories into a single framework and explains a wide range of findings about curiosity, including its subjectivity and malleability. Inspired by this framework, I will then present a study that suggests that increasing perceptions of value regarding a scientific topic might increase curiosity as well as subsequent information search.





Gert Westermann (09.00 - 10.00)

Curiosity as a driver of learning in infancy


Much of what we know about infants' cognitive development comes from studies in which infants are passive recipients of information presented to them on a computer screen in an order and duration determined by the experimenter. While this body of work has provided us with many insights about infants' learning and their cognitive abilities, these methods ignore a fundamental aspect of real-life learning: outside the lab, infants are actively involved in their learning through exploring their environment and engaging with information in the order and duration they choose. In our lab we investigate infants' information seeking using behavioural, eye tracking, EEG and computational modelling methods. Here I will provide an overview of our work in this field to show that infants' active information seeking is systematic and goal directed, and I will propose that it can be understood as an outcome of interactions between the infant's internal knowledge state and the information structure of the environment. I will then discuss a theory of how curiosity relates to the exploration-exploitation trade-off in acquiring knowledge about the world.



Gudrun Schwarzer (10.30 - 11.30)

The relation between visual-spatial object processing and object exploration in infants


It is essential that infants learn to understand the visual-spatial characteristics of objects in their environment. This enables them to recognize objects despite changes in the viewing angles, and to visually anticipate and grasp them at the right moment when they move. This in turn allows infants to interact safely with objects and perform successful actions with them in everyday life. In this talk, I will provide empirical evidence that infants’ visual-spatial processing of objects is deeply intertwined with how they explore objects with their hands, as well as their locomotor activity. I will begin by demonstrating how infants’ visual-spatial processing of objects is linked to the specific way they manually explore objects. Next, I will show that infants self-produced locomotion activity is also related to their visual-spatial object understanding. Finally, I will introduce studies that examined how both modes of object exploration interact to allow for successful visual-spatial object processing.



Ilhan Inan (11.30 - 12.30)

Curiosity, awareness of ignorance and meta-representation


Despite the increasing trend in the last several decades on curiosity studies in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy, we are still far away from reaching a consensus on what curiosity is. This makes it difficult to decide what kind of behaviour is sufficient for us to attribute curiosity to a being. Most drive theorists take a primitive form of exploratory behaviour to be a sufficient sign of curiosity which they have tried to account for in terms of conflict-resolution, boredom-reduction, sensation-seeking, novelty-seeking, or information-seeking. There are however several researchers (including the present author) who are sceptical of this view. Regardless of how we settle this issue it should be acknowledged that human adult curiosity that is expressible in language in the form of a question requires certain sophisticated skills. Our ability to become aware of our ignorance stands out as being the most important; typically, we become curious when we realize that there is something we do not know that we wish to find out, which requires epistemic self-reflection and a very peculiar form of meta-representation. This mental skill may be absent in animals, and only after a critical point in their development young children may acquire it. Here we have two options; we either can distinguish between two types of curiosity, a primitive type based on a drive that exhibits itself as exploratory behaviour, and a more advanced form based on a meta-representational skill; or we may simply deny that the primitive form of exploratory behaviour is caused by curiosity. After briefly rehearsing arguments on both sides, this talk will concentrate on the thesis that asking a question out of curiosity requires awareness of ignorance which in turn requires a certain form of meta-representation. 



Sabine Hunnius  (13.30 - 14.30)

Infants’ exploration and (social) learning


Infants’ cognitive development progresses at a breath-taking rate. I will discuss a series of insights into how infant learning takes place that have given us a better understanding of how this rapid development is at all possible. First, infants are sensitive to statistical information in their environment from early on. They use this information to build predictive models of the world that they continuously and flexibly update in the light of new information. Moreover, infants are active learners and preferably explore stimuli that are optimally informative. Finally, adult interaction partners skilfully support young children’s exploration and learning. I will present a series of behavioural and neurophysiological experiments demonstrating how these mechanisms support infants’ learning. Moreover, I will discuss recent research from my lab on caregivers’ infant-directed behaviours that shows how adults adapt their teaching behaviours to the attentional preferences and learning capabilities of their infant interaction partners and create optimal learning opportunities for them. Together, this demonstrates how the intricate interaction of infants’ basic learning mechanisms, their active exploration, and a well-matched social environment can bring about the astonishing developmental changes of early childhood.