When it came to the Gaze Following Task, researchers found that infants in the “reliable looker” condition followed the experimenter’s gaze to a target behind the barrier more often than infants in the “unreliable looker” condition. Both groups followed the experimenter’s gaze to the sticker that was visible on the front of the barrier equally as often. These findings suggest that when the unreliable looker was looking at a toy that was outside the infants’ view, they potentially used their understanding of the “looker’s” past reliability in the Search Task to judge whether or not to follow her gaze. Interestingly, infants in the “unreliable looker” condition followed the experimenter’s gaze to the sticker on the front of the barrier more often than they did to the object hidden behind the barrier. The results of this experiment can be explained in two ways: either the infants from the ‘unreliable looker’ condition understood not to rely on the experimenter’s gaze after completing the Search Task, or that the Search Task eliminated a conditioned response to look where someone else was looking. In order to better understand which explanation is more likely a second experiment was conducted.
In the second experiment, the Search Task and the Gaze Following Task were completed with a new group of twenty-four 14-month-old infants. All infants completed the “unreliable looker” condition of the search task and then a new experimenter was introduced to conduct the gaze following task. The researchers expected that if the reduction in gaze following that was found for the infants in the ‘unreliable looker’ condition was due to the elimination of a conditioned response, the results would be the same even if there was a new experimenter conducting the gaze following task. The final results did not suggest that this is, in fact, the case. As was found in the first experiment, the infants took longer before exploring the contents of the container in the final trial of the search task than they did in the first trial. However, with a new experimenter, the infants followed the lookers gaze more often than the infants in the ‘unreliable looker’ condition group of experiment one. Infants tracked the gaze of a new looker just as often as they did the gaze of the ‘reliable looker’.
Collectively, the results from these two experiments support previous findings that show that infants are capable of following a looker’s gaze to an object that is outside of their field of vision and further suggests that gaze following in infants as young as 14-months-old is influenced by prior experience with the looker. The results also suggest that infants treat an adult’s gaze as reliable by default; only changing their expectations based on negative experiences. It seems also that infants at this age are capable keeping track of the reliability of the looker’s gaze across 2 different contexts.
Download the complete paper:
To see or not to see: infants prefer to follow the gaze of a reliable looker