Back New Publication! Journal of Neuroscience, Feb. 2024.

New Publication! Journal of Neuroscience, Feb. 2024.



New publication! 

Colomer M., Zacharaki K., Sebastian-Galles N. "Selective action prediction in infancy depending on linguistic cues: an EEG and Eyetracker study", Journal of Neuroscience 28 February 2024, e1301232024; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1301-23.2024


Humans’ capacity to predict actions and to socially categorize individuals are at the basis of social cognition. Such capacities emerge in early infancy. By 6 months of age infants predict others’ reaching actions considering others’ epistemic state. At a similar age, infants are biased to attend to and interact with more familiar individuals, considering adult-like social categories such as the language people speak. We report that these two core processes are interrelated early on in infancy. In a belief-based action prediction task, 6-month-old infants (males and females) presented with a native speaker generated online predictions about the agent's actions, as revealed by the activation of participants’ sensorimotor areas before the agent's movement. However, infants who were presented with a foreign speaker did not recruit their motor system before the agent's action. Eye-tracker analysis provided further evidence that linguistic group familiarity influences how infants predict others’ actions, as only infants presented with a native speaker modified their attention to the stimuli as a function of the agent's forthcoming behavior. The current findings suggest that infants’ emerging capacity to predict others’ actions is modulated by social cues, such as others’ linguistic group. A facilitation to predict and encode the actions of native speakers relative to foreign speakers may explain, in part, why infants preferentially attend to, imitate, and learn from the actions of native speakers.

Significance statement This article investigates how information about social categories, such as the language people speak, influences action prediction in infancy. Six-month-old infants predicted the actions of an agent based on her knowledge about the location of an object, but only if she previously spoke infants’ native language rather than a foreign language. Previous studies found that infants are less likely to imitate and engage with the actions of foreign speakers. Here, we extend these findings by showing that the tendency to predict others’ actions may be weakened when interacting with speakers of a foreign language, potentially due to an association of foreign languages with unexpected behaviors. This selectivity could drive infants’ biases to attend to and learn from native speakers.



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