Published in Frontiers in Psychology at

doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00802


We propose that free viewing of natural images in human infants can be understood and analyzed as the product of intrinsically-motivated visual exploration. We examined this idea by first generating five sets of center-of-gaze (COG) image samples, which were derived by presenting a series of natural images to groups of both real observers (i.e., 9-month-olds and adults) and artificial observers (i.e., an image-saliency model, an image-entropy model, and a random-gaze model). In order to assess the sequential learnability of the COG samples, we paired each group of samples with a simple recurrent network, which was trained to reproduce the corresponding sequence of COG samples. We then asked whether an intrinsically-motivated artificial agent would learn to identify the most successful network. In Simulation 1, the agent was rewarded for selecting the observer group and network with the lowest prediction errors, while in Simulation 2 the agent was rewarded for selecting the observer group and network with the largest rate of improvement. Our prediction was that if visual exploration in infants is intrinsically-motivated—and more specifically, the goal of exploration is to learn to produce sequentially-predictable gaze patterns—then the agent would show a preference for the COG samples produced by the infants over the other four observer groups. The results from both simulations supported our prediction. We conclude by highlighting the implications of our approach for understanding visual development in infants, and discussing how the model can be elaborated and improved.