Monday, October 20th, 3pm, KL 232

Caitiln Fausey, University of Oregon Psychology Department

Instances in time: The structure in the learning environment and why it matters

We experience objects and words in time. How do learners encounter instances of the categories that they need to learn — as random samples of the regularities in the world or as clustered samples in time? I present evidence that the stream of instances available in young children’s everyday environments is not random, but is selective and ordered in systematic ways. The dynamic structure of experience plays out at multiple time scales. Over developmental time (years), my first-of-its-kind corpus of head camera recordings at home has revealed that the frequency of faces and hands in the proximal visual environment of infants changes markedly in the first two years of life. Faces are more dominant early and hands are later. Over learning time (days and months), my time-sampling survey and first-person-picture recordings demonstrate that instances of early learned words are first highly consistent (e.g., the same cup experienced over space and time) followed by greater variability later (e.g., different cups). Over task time (seconds and minutes), my corpus of parents and children playing with instances of multiple novel categories has revealed a bursty timeline such that similar instances cluster in time and these clusters repeat amidst a stream of more variable instances. At each time scale in these natural environments, there is incremental and ordered structure in the instances that learners encounter. This structure in the learning environment has profound implications for the form that pathways of early learning take and must constrain mechanisms for how people build knowledge.

Caitlin Fausey is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. Previously, she earned her PhD from Stanford and was a research scientist at Indiana University. Her research focuses broadly on how people build knowledge throughout life, and currently focuses on how the structure of everyday activities in early infancy drives change in the cognitive system.