Presenter: Robert (Bo) Powers
Title of Dissertation: Connecting Action to Perception Across Development: A Domain-General Account with Empirical and Computational Studies
Department: CMU Psychology
Date: Thursday, August 22, 2019
Time: 11:00 AM
Location: CMU Baker Hall, 336B
David C. Plaut (Chair)
Action production can influence action perception in early development. However, the extent of this influence and the mechanisms that are responsible have been debated. Some theories argue that learning from experience alone is too limited, and that innate, highly structured representations are required, organized by goals or abstract principles. However, the neural bases of those teleological representations and how they relate to experience remain unknown. This dissertation explores an alternative account based on the computational principles embodied in connectionist models. The connectionist framework can account for emergent sensitivity to the abstract goal-structure of observed actions as a function of experience, and it can also extend prior associative learning accounts that include a role for the observer’s motor system in action prediction. In the current work, a set of model simulations based on domain-general mechanisms of perceptual prediction, modulated by attentional biases, account for sensitivity to the efficiency of a viewed action across the latter half of the first year. An experiment with adults examines the interaction of actions and their perceptual consequences, finding evidence that both high-level (goal identity) and low-level (spatial locations, movements) information can be associated through sensorimotor integration. Finally, an experiment with infants demonstrates how an intervention in the efficacy of their own actions influences their subsequent perception of efficient versus inefficient actions. The results of these studies are interpreted as being broadly consistent with the connectionist approach, and their implications for future experiments and models are discussed.