Wednesday, May 09, 2012

12 month old human infants recognize stable social dominance relations.

Interesting work from Mascaro and Csibra. They presented several dominance scenarios with block figures to infants, and then examined mean looking time when the dominance relation that the infant had become familiar with was subsequently violated. In the first study, for example, 9- and 12-mo-old infants were shown short animations depicting the actions of two agents. First, the “subordinate” agent was seen collecting small objects. Then the “dominant” agent entered and started to collect objects while the subordinate one let it succeed. In the second study, Twelve- and 15-mo-old infants watched familiarization events in which the agents did not collect objects but competed to stay in a little area, the boundaries of which were delimited by walls. First, the subordinate agent entered the area alone. Then the dominant agent arrived and monopolized the little area by repeatedly pushing the subordinate agent away. In subsequent viewings these dominance relations were either confirmed or violated. Mean gaze time increased significantly when the familiarized sequence was violated. Here is their abstract:
What are the origins of humans’ capacity to represent social relations? We approached this question by studying human infants’ understanding of social dominance as a stable relation. We presented infants with interactions between animated agents in conflict situations. Studies 1 and 2 targeted expectations of stability of social dominance. They revealed that 15-mo-olds (and, to a lesser extent, 12-mo-olds) expect an asymmetric relationship between two agents to remain stable from one conflict to another. To do so, infants need to infer that one of the agents (the dominant) will consistently prevail when her goals conflict with those of the other (the subordinate). Study 3 and 4 targeted the format of infants’ representation of social dominance. In these studies, we found that 12- and 15-mo-olds did not extend their expectations of dominance to unobserved relationships, even when they could have been established by transitive inference. These results suggest that infants' expectation of stability originates from their representation of social dominance as a relationship between two agents rather than as an individual property. Infants’ demonstrated understanding of social dominance reflects the cognitive underpinning of humans’ capacity to represent social relations, which may be evolutionarily ancient, and may be shared with nonhuman species.
In study 1,

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