Automated Study Challenges the Existence of a Foundational Statistical-Learning Ability in Newborn Chicks
What mechanisms underlie learning in newborn brains? Recently, researchers reported that newborn chicks use unsupervised statistical learning to encode the transitional probabilities (TPs) of shapes in a sequence, suggesting that TP-based statistical learning can be present in newborn brains. Using a preregistered design, we attempted to reproduce this finding with an automated method that eliminated experimenter bias and allowed more than 250 times more data to be collected per chick. With precise measurements of each chick’s behavior, we were able to perform individual-level analyses and substantially reduce measurement error for the group-level analyses. We found no evidence that newborn chicks encode the TPs between sequentially presented shapes. None of the chicks showed evidence for this ability. Conversely, we obtained strong evidence that newborn chicks encode the shapes of individual objects, showing that this automated method can produce robust results. These findings challenge the claim that TP-based statistical learning is present in newborn brains.