Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 232, Issue 7, pp 2167–2177 | Cite as

Development of goal-directed action selection guided by intrinsic motivations: an experiment with children

  • Fabrizio TaffoniEmail author
  • Eleonora Tamilia
  • Valentina Focaroli
  • Domenico Formica
  • Luca Ricci
  • Giovanni Di Pino
  • Gianluca Baldassarre
  • Marco Mirolli
  • Eugenio Guglielmelli
  • Flavio Keller
Research Article


Action selection is extremely important, particularly when the accomplishment of competitive tasks may require access to limited motor resources. The spontaneous exploration of the world plays a fundamental role in the development of this capacity, providing subjects with an increasingly diverse set of opportunities to acquire, practice and refine the understanding of action–outcome connection. The computational modeling literature proposed a number of specific mechanisms for autonomous agents to discover and target interesting outcomes: intrinsic motivations hold a central importance among those mechanisms. Unfortunately, the study of the acquisition of action–outcome relation was mostly carried out with experiments involving extrinsic tasks, either based on rewards or on predefined task goals. This work presents a new experimental paradigm to study the effect of intrinsic motivation on action–outcome relation learning and action selection during free exploration of the world. Three- and four-year-old children were observed during the free exploration of a new toy: half of them were allowed to develop the knowledge concerning its functioning; the other half were not allowed to learn anything. The knowledge acquired during the free exploration of the toy was subsequently assessed and compared.


Intrinsic motivation Action selection Curiosity  Action–outcome contingency Novelty detection 



This work was funded by FP7-ICT program (Project No. ICT-2007.3.2-231722-IM-CLeVeR). The authors would like to thank Dr. Roberta Aronica for proof-reading the document, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions to improve the work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fabrizio Taffoni
    • 1
    Email author
  • Eleonora Tamilia
    • 1
  • Valentina Focaroli
    • 2
  • Domenico Formica
    • 1
  • Luca Ricci
    • 1
  • Giovanni Di Pino
    • 3
  • Gianluca Baldassarre
    • 4
  • Marco Mirolli
    • 4
  • Eugenio Guglielmelli
    • 1
  • Flavio Keller
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratory of Biomedical Robotics and BiomicrosystemsUniversità Campus Bio-Medico di RomaRomeItaly
  2. 2.Laboratory of Developmental Neuroscience and Neural PlasticityUniversità Campus Bio-Medico di RomaRomeItaly
  3. 3.Laboratory of Biomedical Robotics and Biomicrosystems, Institute of Neurology, Fondazione Alberto Sordi - Research Institute for AgeingUniversità Campus Bio-Medico di RomaRomeItaly
  4. 4.Laboratory of Computational Embodied Neuroscience, Institute of Cognitive Sciences and TechnologiesCNRRomeItaly

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