Social Cues Modulate Learning of Cue-Reward Association in Typically Developing Children and Adults: A Gaze-Contingent Learning Paradigm
Objectives: To investigate the influence of associated reward on visual orienting to social and non-social stimuli in young typical developing children and adults, with the use of a novel gaze-contingent task to measure spontaneous orienting to these stimuli.
Methods: Sixty-four 3-4 year olds and sixty-four adults observed a stimulus display consisting of two peripherally presented dynamic cues and a centrally presented reward. Participants' eye movements were concurrently recorded with an eye-tracker, and the location of participant's fixation triggered the delivery of corresponding stimuli on-line. Fixation on each cue triggered a dynamic sequence of signals and subsequent delivery of a reward, which was a popular animated cartoon, or a penalty, a blank screen. Two different conditions were investigated. In a social condition, the videos of two persons were presented. An engaging person greeted and turned towards the centre of the screen while the other non-engaging person moaned and turned away from it. In a non-social condition, the videos of two dynamic spheres were presented. An engaging sphere was displaying an arrow associated with a winning jingle (“ding”) and moving towards the centre of the screen while the other non-engaging sphere was displaying an arrow associated with a failing jingle (“dong”) and moving away from it. Engaging cues triggered reward delivery for half the participants, and non-engaging cues for the other half of the participants.
Results: Both children and adults were able to learn the cue-reward association in all the conditions. Importantly, children learned the cue-reward association more rapidly and more efficiently in social and engaging condition than social non-engaging or non-social conditions. Similarly, adults learned the cue-reward association more rapidly and more efficiently in social and engaging condition than in social non-engaging condition. Unlike children, adults' performance did not differ between social engaging condition and in non-social conditions.
Conclusions: The results showed that the engaging nature of social cues facilitates both the speed and the efficiency of learning of cue-reward association, both in typically developing young children and in adults. It also demonstrated the utility of gaze-contingent learning paradigm to assess the role of social signal on a simulated social learning. Future research will benefit from this paradigm to study the relationship between social attention and learning in individuals with Autism.