Disentangling age and schooling effects on inhibitory control development : An fNIRS investigation
2022-09, McKay, Courtney, Wijeakumar, Sobanawartiny, Rafetseder, Eva, Shing, Yee Lee
Children show marked improvements in executive functioning (EF) between 4 and 7 years of age. In many societies, this time period coincides with the start of formal school education, in which children are required to follow rules in a structured environment, drawing heavily on EF processes such as inhibitory control. This study aimed to investigate the longitudinal development of two aspects of inhibitory control, namely response inhibition and response monitoring and their neural correlates. Specifically, we examined how their longitudinal development may differ by schooling experience, and their potential significance in predicting academic outcomes. Longitudinal data were collected in two groups of children at their homes. At T1, all children were roughly 4.5 years of age and neither group had attended formal schooling. One year later at T2, one group (P1, n = 40) had completed one full year of schooling while the other group (KG, n = 40) had stayed in kindergarten. Behavioural and brain activation data (measured with functional near-infrared spectroscopy, fNIRS) in response to a Go/No-Go task and measures of academic achievement were collected. We found that P1 children, compared to KG children, showed a greater change over time in activation related to response monitoring in the bilateral frontal cortex. The change in left frontal activation difference showed a small positive association with math performance. Overall, the school environment is important in shaping the development of the brain functions underlying the monitoring of one own's performance.
Cognitive prerequisites for cumulative culture are context-dependent : Children's potential for ratcheting depends on cue longevity
2021-04, Wilks, Charlotte E. H., Rafetseder, Eva, Renner, Elizabeth, Atkinson, Mark, Caldwell, Christine A.
Human cumulative culture has been suggested to depend on human-unique cognitive mechanisms, explaining its apparent absence in other species. We show that the potential for exhibiting cumulative culture depends on the cognitive abilities of the agents and the demands associated with using information generated by others' activity. 154 children aged 3-6 years played a searching game ("Find the Treasure"), taking their turn after a puppet demonstrator. The puppet's attempt revealed information about the contents of the locations searched, which could be exploited to target rewarded locations, and avoid unrewarded ones. Two conditions were presented, intended to capture realistic variation in the transience of the cues generated by another individual's activity. In one condition, the puppet's demonstration provided transient information - boxes were opened, seen to be rewarded or not, and then closed. In the other condition the puppet's chosen boxes remained partially open, providing an enduring visible cue as to whether that location was rewarded. Children undertook three trials of varying demonstration success, and we used patterns of performance to infer the potential for improvement over multiple generations of transmission. In the Enduring Cues condition, children's performance demonstrated the potential for cumulative culture. In contrast, in the Transient Information condition, only older children showed improved performances following higher success demonstrations and overall performance was not compatible with the possibility of improvements over generations of social transmission. We conclude that under certain conditions cumulative culture could occur in many species, but in a broader range of contexts in humans.
The role of context in "over-imitation" : Evidence of movement-based goal inference in young children
2020, March, Joshua, Rigby Dames, Brier, Caldwell, Christine, Doherty, Martin, Rafetseder, Eva
Children, as well as adults, often imitate causally unnecessary actions. Three experiments investigated whether such "over-imitation" occurs because these actions are interpreted as performed for the movement's sake (i.e., having a "movement-based" goal). Experiment 1 (N = 30, 2-5-year-olds) replicated previous findings; children imitated actions with no goal more precisely than actions with external goals. Experiment 2 (N = 58, 2-5-year-olds) confirmed that the difference between these conditions was not due to the absence/presence of external goals but rather was also found when actions brought about external goals in a clearly inefficient way. Experiment 3 (N = 36, 3-5-year-olds) controlled for the possibility that imitation fidelity was affected by the number of actions and objects present during the demonstration and confirmed that identical actions were imitated more precisely when they appeared to be more inefficient toward an external goal. Our findings suggest that movement-based goal inference encourages over-imitation.
Do infants understand false beliefs? : We don’t know yet - A commentary on Baillargeon, Buttelmann and Southgate’s commentary
2018, Poulin-Dubois, Diane, Rakoczy, Hannes, Burnside, Kimberly, Crivello, Cristina, Dörrenberg, Sebastian, Edwards, Katheryn, Krist, Horst, Kulke, Louisa, Liszkowski, Ulf, Low, Jason, Perner, Josef, Powell, Lindsey, Priewasser, Beate, Rafetseder, Eva, Ruffman, Ted
The commentary by Baillargeon, Buttelmann and Southgate raises a number of crucial issues concerning the replicability and validity of measures of false belief in infancy. Although we agree with some of their arguments, we believe that they underestimate the replication crisis in this area. In our response to their commentary, we first analyze the current empirical situation. The upshot is that, given the available evidence, it remains very much an open question whether infants possess a rich theory of mind. We then draw out more general conclusions for future collaborative studies that have the potential to address this open question.
Children transition from simple associations to explicitly reasoned social learning strategies between age four and eight
2022-03-23, Blakey, Kirsten H., Renner, Elizabeth, Atkinson, Mark, Rafetseder, Eva, Caldwell, Christine A.
To differentiate the use of simple associations from use of explicitly reasoned selective social learning, we can look for age-related changes in children's behaviour that might signify a switch from one social learning strategy to the other. We presented 4- to 8-year-old children visiting a zoo in Scotland (N = 109) with a task in which the perceptual access of two informants was determined by the differing opacity of two screens of similar visual appearance during a hiding event. Initially success could be achieved by forming an association or inferring a rule based on salient visual (but causally irrelevant) cues. However, following a switch in the scenario, success required explicit reasoning about informants' potential to provide valuable information based on their perceptual access. Following the switch, older children were more likely to select a knowledgeable informant. This suggests that some younger children who succeeded in the pre-switch trials had inferred rules or formed associations based on superficial, yet salient, visual cues, whereas older children made the link between perceptual access and the potential to inform. This late development and apparent cognitive challenge are consistent with proposals that such capacities are linked to the distinctiveness of human cumulative culture.
Children struggle beyond preschool-age in a continuous version of the ambiguous figures task
2021-03, Rafetseder, Eva, Schuster, Sarah, Hawelka, Stefan, Doherty, Martin, Anderson, Britt, Danckert, James, Stöttinger, Elisabeth
Children until the age of five are only able to reverse an ambiguous figure when they are informed about the second interpretation. In two experiments, we examined whether children's difficulties would extend to a continuous version of the ambiguous figures task. Children (Experiment 1: 66 3- to 5-year olds; Experiment 2: 54 4- to 9-year olds) and adult controls saw line drawings of animals gradually morph-through well-known ambiguous figures-into other animals. Results show a relatively late developing ability to recognize the target animal, with difficulties extending beyond preschool-age. This delay can neither be explained with improvements in theory of mind, inhibitory control, nor individual differences in eye movements. Even the best achieving children only started to approach adult level performance at the age of 9, suggesting a fundamentally different processing style in children and adults.
Are counterfactuals in and about time?
2019, Beck, Sarah Ruth, Rafetseder, Eva
We discuss whether the two systems approach can advance understanding of children's developing counterfactual thinking. We argue that types of counterfactual thinking that are acquired early in development could be handled by the temporal updating system, whereas those that emerge in middle childhood require thinking about specific events in time.
Home assessment of visual working memory in pre-schoolers reveals associations between behaviour, brain activation and parent reports of life stress
2021-07, McKay, Courtney A., Shing, Yee Lee, Rafetseder, Eva, Wijeakumar, Sobanawartiny
Visual working memory (VWM) is reliably predictive of fluid intelligence and academic achievements. The objective of the current study was to investigate individual differences in pre-schoolers' VWM processing by examining the association between behaviour, brain function and parent-reported measures related to the child's environment. We used a portable functional near-infrared spectroscopy system to record from the frontal and parietal cortices of 4.5-year-old children (N = 74) as they completed a colour change-detection VWM task in their homes. Parents were asked to fill in questionnaires on temperament, academic aspirations, home environment and life stress. Children were median-split into a low-performing (LP) and a high-performing (HP) group based on the number of items they could successfully remember during the task. LPs increasingly activated channels in the left frontal and bilateral parietal cortices with increasing load, whereas HPs showed no difference in activation. Our findings suggest that LPs recruited more neural resources than HPs when their VWM capacity was challenged. We employed mediation analyses to examine the association between the difference in activation between the highest and lowest loads and variables from the questionnaires. The difference in activation between loads in the left parietal cortex partially mediated the association between parent-reported stressful life events and VWM performance. Critically, our findings show that the association between VWM capacity, left parietal activation and indicators of life stress is important to understand the nature of individual differences in VWM in pre-school children.
Extended difficulties with counterfactuals persist in reasoning with false beliefs : Evidence for teleology-in-perspective
2021, Rafetseder, Eva, O'Brien, Christine, Leahy, Brian, Perner, Josef
Increasing evidence suggests that counterfactual reasoning is involved in false belief reasoning. Because existing work is correlational, we developed a manipulation that revealed a signature of counterfactual reasoning in participants' answers to false belief questions. In two experiments, we tested 3- to 14-year-olds and found high positive correlations (r = .56 and r = .73) between counterfactual and false belief questions. Children were very likely to respond to both questions with the same answer, also committing the same type of error. We discuss different theories and their ability to account for each aspect of our findings and conclude that reasoning about others' beliefs and actions requires similar cognitive processes as using counterfactual suppositions. Our findings question the explanatory power of the traditional frameworks, theory theory and simulation theory, in favor of views that explicitly provide for a relationship between false belief reasoning and counterfactual reasoning.
Helping as an early indicator of a theory of mind : Mentalism or Teleology?
2018, Priewasser, Beate, Rafetseder, Eva, Gargitter, Carina, Perner, Josef
This article challenges the claim that young children's helping responses in Buttelmann, Carpenter, and Tomasello's (2009) task are based on ascribing a false belief to a mistaken agent. In our first Study 18- to 32-month old children (N = 28) were more likely to help find a toy in the false belief than in the true belief condition. In Study 2, with 54 children of the same age, we assessed the authors' mentalist interpretation of this result against an alternative teleological interpretation that does not make the assumption of belief ascription. The data speak in favor of our alternative. Children's social competency is based more on inferences about what is likely to happen in a particular situation and on objective reasons for action than on inferences about agents' mental states. We also discuss the need for testing serious alternative interpretations of claims about early belief understanding.