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Jean Nicod Prize & Lectures 2011

Gergely CSIBRA
György GERGELY


Natural Pedagogy



Biographical note:

Gergely Csibra is a professor of psychology at the Department of Cognitive Science, Central European University (CEU), and, together with György Gergely, leads the Cognitive Development Center at CEU. He obtained his PhD in Budapest, then worked at the MRC Cognitive Development Unit and at Birkbeck College in London, before returning to Budapest in 2008. His research focuses on various aspects of cognitive development in human infants. Specifically, he studies infants’ visual processing from the level of spatial attention and eye-movement control through the intermediate levels of object and face perception to the level of interpretation of observed actions in terms of goals and the understanding of communicative signals. He is also interested in how cognitive processes are implemented in the human brain and how studying neural development could contribute to the understanding of cognitive development in infancy.


György Gergely did his graduate studies in psychology at University College London and Columbia University where he received his PhD in experimental psycholinguistics. He has also earned a second PhD in Clinical Child Psychology from the HIETE University, Budapest. His main research interests are: Social and cognitive development and cultural learning, action understanding and teleological reasoning in infancy, theory of mind, and developmental psychopathology. He has published in three broad areas of research and theory: a) cognitive science, b) cognitive and socio-emotional development, and c) clinical and psychoanalytic developmental theory, and developmental psychopathology. His professional work has been acknowledged by several international awards of scientific excellence (e.g., Guggenheim Fellowship, 2004, Sylvia Brody Prize for Developmental Research, NYPA, 2004; Gradiva Prize for best book on clinical theory, 2003, NAAP, USA; APA’s Beach Comparative Psychology Award, 2001, Resident Fellow, CASBS, Stanford, 2007-8; Charles Simonyi Research Prize, 2010).

 

Brochure ǀ Poster

 

Program

Monday, November 7th, 4pm to 6pm
Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Amphithéâtre
105 bd Raspail, 75006 Paris
Non-Verbal Generics

Non-verbal demonstratives, like pointing to something or showing something up, pick out their referents as particular objects or sets of objects individuated by spatial means. Despite of this, we have repeatedly found in studies with human infants, children, and adults that, when such gestures are used ostensively and the context does not suggest otherwise, they are taken to refer to the object kind that the referent represents rather than to the particular object present in the context. This paradoxical phenomenon of non-verbal demonstrative reference to kinds parallels some core properties of generic linguistic expressions. In particular, generic constructions are unmarked, there is a ’default’ bias towards generic interpretation of ambiguous sentences, and the predicates of generic expressions are expected to reflect essential, kind-relevant properties that are tolerant to counterexamples. We argue that non-verbal demonstrative reference shares these properties, which reflect fundamental design features of the cognitive mechanisms subserving human ostensive communication.
Video

Gergely Csibra and György Gergely will be awarded the Jean-Nicod Prize after the lecture.


Wednesday, November 9th, 2pm to 4pm
Ecole Normale Supérieure, 45, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris, Salle des Actes
Opaque Knowledge

Instrumental actions performed by non-human primate species pursue a restricted range of goals that directly satisfy basic biological needs of the actor, and employ means that are transparently related to the physical properties of the goal object and the visible situational constraints on action. In contrast, several properties of human goal-directed actions and culturally transmitted instrumental skills render them causally or teleologically ‘opaque’ for a naïve observational learner. Human actions may be teleologically opaque because they are directed to goals that are far detached from their immediate biological needs and because they involve multiple outcomes. Humans also frequently perform hierarchically organized sequences of goal-directed actions where local sub-goals can be identified only in terms of their relation to the final goal. Actions can also be causally opaque because the means they adopt or the manner in which they are performed leaves it unclear to the observer how (or whether) they are causally connected to the ends they achieve. The causal and teleological opacity of human instrumental actions represents a non-trivial learnability problem for purely observational social learning mechanisms. We propose that this learnability problem led to the evolutionary selection of a new type of social learning mechanism provided by communicative action demonstrations, which highlight and actively guide the learner’s attention to the relevant aspects of the cognitively opaque instrumental actions to be acquired. We argue that both producing and interpreting such communicative knowledge demonstrations rely on specific adaptations. Evidence on observational learning of novel instrumental actions by human infants versus non-human primates supports our proposal for a human-specific system of cultural knowledge transfer based on ostensive communicative demonstrations.
Video


Monday, November 14th, 2pm to 4pm
Ecole Normale Supérieure, 45, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris, Salle des Actes
Being Addressed

In order to learn from others by communication, human infants must interpret certain acts as communicative in nature. We propose that there are at least two ways by which infants are prepared to receive information from others. First, they possess a skeletal format for representing communicative intentions, which are understood as second-order intentions referring some further informative intentions. Setting up such representations is triggered by the reception of ostensive signals, such as eye contact and special intonation, and some of these signals are innately specified. Second, infants assume the referential nature of the signals coming from the source of ostension. Thus, while they have to learn how (verbal and non-verbal) signals refer, they do not have to discover that they do so. We present empirical evidence supporting both proposals.
Video

Wednesday, November,16th, 2pm - 4pm
Ecole Normale Supérieure, 45, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris, Salle des Actes
Natural Pedagogy

Ostensive communication evolved as a species-unique form of epistemic cooperation in humans. Communication can induce epistemic gain both by means of ostensive reference to relevant episodic information about a particular referent (when the relevance applies to the ‘here-and-now’ only) or by manifesting relevant generic knowledge about referent kinds. In spite of this symmetry in functional use, we frequently find that non-verbal ostensive communication is assumed to make reference to, and manifest relevant knowledge about, kinds rather than particulars. We hypothesize that this built-in ‘genericity bias’ is a design feature of ostensive communication that is an evolutionary signature reflecting the specialized function that ostensive communication may have been selected for: the fast and direct (non-inductive) transfer of generic and socially shared cultural knowledge about kinds. It is argued that this cognitive adaptation was crucial for making cognitively opaque cultural knowledge easily learneable and efficiently transferable across generations. We propose that by having evolved specific cognitive biases, human infants are prepared to be at the receptive side of communicative knowledge transfer, which, together with adults’ inclination to pass on their knowledge to the next generation, constitute a system of ’natural pedagogy’ in humans.
Video
 

Selected Publications:

Gergely, G., & Csibra, G. (2009). Natural pedagogy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol.13 No.4.
Gergely, G., & Csibra, G. (2003) Teleological reasoning in infancy: the naıve theory of rational action. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.7 No.7 July 2003.
Gergely, G., Nádasdy, Z., Csibra, G., & Bíró, S. (1995). Taking the intentional stance at 12 months of age. Cognition, 56, No. 2., 165-193.
Gergely, G., Bekkering, H., & Király, I. (2002). Rational imitation in preverbal infants. Nature, 415, 755.
Gergely, G., & Csibra, G. (2003). Teleological reasoning about actions: The one-year-old’s naïve theory of rational action. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 287-292.
Gergely, G., & Csibra, G. (2006). Sylvia’s recipe: The role of imitation and pedagogy in the transmission of cultural knowledge. In: S. Levenson & N. Enfield (Eds.) Roots of Human Sociality: Culture, Cognition, and Human Interaction (pp. 229-255). Oxford: Berg Publishers.
Gergely, G., Király, I., & Egyed, K. (2007). On pedagogy. Developmental Science, 10, 139-146.
Brass, M., Schmitt, R., Spengler, S., & Gergely, G. (2007). Interpreting action understanding: Inferential processes versus action simulation. Current Biology, 17, 1-5.
Topál, J., Gergely, G., Miklósi, Á., Erdöhegyi , Á., Csibra, G. (2008) Infants’ perseverative search errors are induced by pragmatic misinterpretation. Science, Vol. 321.Issue 5897, pp. 1831-1834.
Topál, J., Gergely, G., Erdöhegyi, & Csibra, G. , A. Miklosi (2009). Differential sensitivity to human communication in dogs, wolves, and human infants. Science, 325, 1269-1272.
Gergely, G. (2009). Kinds of agents: The origins of understanding instrumental and communicative agency, In: U. Goshwami, (Ed.). Blackwell Handbook of Childhood Cognitive Development. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Futó, J., Téglás, E., Csibra, G., & Gergely, G. (2010). Communicative function demonstration induces kind-based artifact representation in preverbal infants. Cognition, 117, 1-8.
 

 

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
(Institut National des Sciences Humaines et Sociales)

Ecole Normale Supérieure
Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales
 


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