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  1. Abstract Traditionally, the exogenous control of gaze by external saliencies and the endogenous control of gaze by knowledge and context have been viewed as competing systems, with late infancy seen as a period of strengthening top‐down control over the vagaries of the input. Here we found that one‐year‐old infants control sustained attention through head movements that increase the visibility of the attended object. Freely moving one‐year‐old infants ( n  = 45) wore head‐mounted eye trackers and head motion sensors while exploring sets of toys of the same physical size. The visual size of the objects, a well‐documented salience, varied naturally with the infant's moment‐to‐moment posture and head movements. Sustained attention to an object was characterized by the tight control of head movements that created and then stabilized a visual size advantage for the attended object for sustained attention. The findings show collaboration between exogenous and endogenous attentional systems and suggest new hypotheses about the development of sustained visual attention. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 4, 2024
  2. Actions in the world elicit data for learning and do so in a stream of interconnected events. Here, we provide evidence on how toddlers with their parent sample information by acting on toys during exploratory play. We observed 10 min of free-flowing and unconstrained object exploration of by toddlers (mean age 21 months) and parents in a room with many available objects ( n = 32). Borrowing concepts and measures from the study of narratives, we found that the toy selections are not a string of unrelated events but exhibit a suite of what we call coherence statistics: Zipfian distributions, burstiness and a network structure. We discuss the transient memory processes that underlie the moment-to-moment toy selections that create this coherence and the role of these statistics in the development of abstract and generalizable systems of knowledge. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Concepts in interaction: social engagement and inner experiences’. 
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  3. Early object name learning is often conceptualized as a problem of mapping heard names to referents. However, infants do not hear object names as discrete events but rather in extended interactions organized around goal-directed actions on objects. The present study examined the statistical structure of the nonlinguistic events that surround parent naming of objects. Parents and 12-month-old infants were left alone in a room for 10 minutes with 32 objects available for exploration. Parent and infant handling of objects and parent naming of objects were coded. The four measured statistics were from measures used in the study of coherent discourse: (i) a frequency distribution in which actions were frequently directed to a few objects and more rarely to other objects; (ii) repeated returns to the high-frequency objects over the 10- minute play period; (iii) clustered repetitions and continuity of actions on objects; and (iv) structured networks of transitions among objects in play that connected all the played-with objects. Parent naming was infre- quent but related to the statistics of object-directed actions. The impli- cations of the discourse-like stream of actions are discussed in terms of learning mechanisms that could support rapid learning of object names from relatively few name-object co-occurrences. 
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  4. Infants begin learning the visual referents of nouns before their first birthday. Despite considerable empirical and theoretical effort, little is known about the statistics of the experiences that enable infants to break into object–name learning. We used wearable sensors to collect infant experiences of visual objects and their heard names for 40 early-learned categories. The analyzed data were from one context that occurs multiple times a day and includes objects with early-learned names: mealtime. The statistics reveal two distinct timescales of experience. At the timescale of many mealtime episodes ( n = 87), the visual categories were pervasively present, but naming of the objects in each of those categories was very rare. At the timescale of single mealtime episodes, names and referents did cooccur, but each name–referent pair appeared in very few of the mealtime episodes. The statistics are consistent with incremental learning of visual categories across many episodes and the rapid learning of name–object mappings within individual episodes. The two timescales are also consistent with a known cortical learning mechanism for one-episode learning of associations: new information, the heard name, is incorporated into well-established memories, the seen object category, when the new information cooccurs with the reactivation of that slowly established memory. 
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  5. The learning of first object names is deemed a hard problem due to the uncertainty inherent in mapping a heard name to the intended referent in a cluttered and variable world. However, human infants readily solve this problem. Despite considerable theoretical discussion, relatively little is known about the uncertainty infants face in the real world. We used head-mounted eye tracking during parent–infant toy play and quantified the uncertainty by measuring the distribution of infant attention to the potential referents when a parent named both familiar and unfamiliar toy objects. The results show that infant gaze upon hearing an object name is often directed to a single referent which is equally likely to be a wrong competitor or the intended target. This bimodal gaze distribution clarifies and redefines the uncertainty problem and constrains possible solutions. 
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  6. Very few questions have cast such an enduring effect in cognitive science as the question of “symbol-grounding”: Do human-invented symbol systems have to be grounded to physical objects to gain meanings? This question has strongly influenced research and practice in education involving the use of physical models and manipulatives. However, the evidence on the effectiveness of physical models is mixed. We suggest that rethinking physical models in terms of analogies, rather than groundings, offers useful insights. Three experiments with 4- to 6-year-old children showed that they can learn about how written multi-digit numbers are named and how they are used to represent relative magnitudes based on exposure to either a few pairs of written multi-digit numbers and their corresponding names, or exposure to multi-digit number names and their corresponding physical models made up by simple shapes (e.g., big-medium-small discs); but they failed to learn with traditional mathematical manipulatives (i.e., base-10 blocks, abacus) that provide a more complete grounding of the base-10 principles. These findings have implications for place value instruction in schools and for the determination of principles to guide the use of physical models. 
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