TRIESTE, Italy, April 9 (UPI) -- Humans are intellectual creatures. But perhaps more so, they are emotional creatures. A new study illuminates the importance of emotion and human-to-human connection -- via communication -- in early learning.
Humans often think of the learning process as a process of repetition -- of seeing and doing. But as new research reveals, the focus on statistical or repetitive learning fails to recognize the importance of communication.
In a recent study, researchers proved that the addition of human communication enabled less reliable information to beat out more statistically valuable info. The study featured an infant as the learner and an adult manipulating a machine with two buttons as the teacher. One button turned on a light two-thirds of the time (the high-frequency button), the other turned on the light only one-third of the time (the low-frequency button).
In the baseline scenario, the adult rotated between pressing the buttons successively over a brief period of time. The mimicking infant preferred the button that demonstrated a greater efficiency.
But in a second scenario, a communicative element was added. The adult made eye contact with the child and made baby-talk sounds when pressing the low-frequency button. Despite the statistical information available, the infants showed a preference for the low-frequency button.
"Human beings learn from statistical associations between events and objects," said study author Hanna Marno, a researcher at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, Italy. "If, for example, one event very frequently follows another, we'll learn to associate the first with the second and to use this association in our daily lives. However, this is not the only way we learn."
The new study demonstrates that a preference for communicative learning may both interfere with and enhance early learning.
"The results demonstrate that in these experiments the 'communicative' signals are more important than the efficiency of the action" explains Marno. "Compared to children's tendency to choose the more efficient button in the neutral condition, in the experimental situation they tended to prefer the button with low efficiency if this had been highlighted by the adult's communicative signals."
"Our studies clearly demonstrate the huge importance of communication in human learning," she concluded.
The research was published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.