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How children make sense of the world

A perceptual learning account
PhD ceremony:Mr P.F. (Pieter) de Bordes
When:March 01, 2021
Supervisor:prof. dr. P.L.C. van Geert
Co-supervisors:dr. R.F.A. (Ralf) Cox, dr. F.W. Hasselman
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences
How children make sense of the world

The aim of this thesis was to describe the social and non-social development of infants and children from a perceptual learning account. Perceptual learning is a domain-general process by which children progressively can distinguish more diverse and relevant information in the world around them. This then allows children to couple perception and action in novel and adaptive ways, helping them to meet the demands and opportunities provided by that world. It is claimed that this does not require the mediation of any specialized cognitive functions, something that is usually either explicit or implicitly acclaimed in theories of development. This thesis reports several studies that show how infants and children develop social and non-social skills by means of perceptual learning, such as gaze following, specific forms of imitation, facial expression recognition, and understanding of physical mechanisms. As an example, it was shown that infants are able to perceive another person’s intended actions with objects by perceptually tuning into the sequence of events of how he or she interacts with those objects. In another reported study, it was shown that children’s interaction with physical mechanisms can create the perceptual information that helps them to understand those physical mechanisms in an advanced manner. For the future, it was suggested that perceptual learning should be used to further investigate early social development and learning contexts for children. This could lead to new insights on how to describe development and learning processes and to optimize contexts for learning to occur.