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      Distinctive signatures of recursion.

      Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

      physiology, Visual Perception, Verbal Learning, Memory, Short-Term, Language, Humans, Computational Biology, Cognition, Behavior, Algorithms

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          Abstract

          Although recursion has been hypothesized to be a necessary capacity for the evolution of language, the multiplicity of definitions being used has undermined the broader interpretation of empirical results. I propose that only a definition focused on representational abilities allows the prediction of specific behavioural traits that enable us to distinguish recursion from non-recursive iteration and from hierarchical embedding: only subjects able to represent recursion, i.e. to represent different hierarchical dependencies (related by parenthood) with the same set of rules, are able to generalize and produce new levels of embedding beyond those specified a priori (in the algorithm or in the input). The ability to use such representations may be advantageous in several domains: action sequencing, problem-solving, spatial navigation, social navigation and for the emergence of conventionalized communication systems. The ability to represent contiguous hierarchical levels with the same rules may lead subjects to expect unknown levels and constituents to behave similarly, and this prior knowledge may bias learning positively. Finally, a new paradigm to test for recursion is presented. Preliminary results suggest that the ability to represent recursion in the spatial domain recruits both visual and verbal resources. Implications regarding language evolution are discussed.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          10.1098/rstb.2012.0097
          3367689
          22688640

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