Infants can recognize when they are unsure and effectively ask for help, demonstrating early metacognitive skills. This evidences their performance in a nonverbal task designed to assess memory and uncertainty.

Significance (copied from paper)
Although many animals have been shown to monitor their own uncertainty, only humans seem to have the ability to explicitly communicate their uncertainty to others. It remains unknown whether this ability is present early in development, or whether it only emerges later alongside language development. Here, using a nonverbal memory-monitoring paradigm, we show that infants are able to strategically ask for help to avoid making mistakes. These findings reveal that infants are capable of monitoring and communicating their own uncertainty. We propose that explicit metacognition develops earlier than previously thought, enabling infants to communicate their own uncertainty nonverbally to gain knowledge from others.

Study Overview: Involved 20-month-old infants tasked with remembering the location of a hidden toy. Infants could nonverbally request help if uncertain about the toy's location.

Experimental Findings:

  • The average accuracy of pointing to the correct location was 61%, showing infants could often recall the toy's location.
  • Infants given the option to ask for help (experimental group) performed better, with an average accuracy of 66%, compared to 56% in the control group.
  • The experimental group's improvement was attributed to a decrease in incorrect responses rather than an increase in correct ones.
  • In particular, the rate of incorrect responses was significantly lower in the experimental group, suggesting that infants asked for help to avoid errors.
  • The probability of asking for help increased with task difficulty, particularly for longer memory delays and "impossible" trials where the toy's location was not shown.
  • Infants asked for help more often in impossible trials than in possible ones, indicating a sensitivity to their own level of uncertainty.

Individual Differences in Seeking Help:

  • Not all infants in the experimental group asked for help; 14 out of 40 never did, showing the same accuracy rate (56%) as the control group.
  • This highlights individual differences in metacognitive abilities and the decision to seek assistance.
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