What is the optimal penalty for errors in infant skill learning? Behavioral analyses indicate that errors are frequent but trivial as infants acquire foundational skills. In learning to walk, for example, falling is commonplace but appears to incur only a negligible penalty. Behavioral data, however, cannot reveal whether a low penalty for falling is beneficial for learning to walk. Here, we used a simulated bipedal robot as an embodied model to test the optimal penalty for errors in learning to walk. We trained the robot to walk using 12,500 independent simulations on walking paths produced by infants during free play and systematically varied the penalty for falling—a level of precision, control, and magnitude impossible with real infants. When trained with lower penalties for falling, the robot learned to walk farther and better on familiar, trained paths and better generalized its learning to novel, untrained paths. Indeed, zero penalty for errors led to the best performance for both learning and generalization. Moreover, the beneficial effects of a low penalty were stronger for generalization than for learning. Robot simulations corroborate prior behavioral data and suggest that a low penalty for errors helps infants learn foundational skills (e.g., walking, talking, and social interactions) that require immense flexibility, creativity, and adaptability. Research Highlights: During infant skill acquisition, errors are commonplace but appear to incur a low penalty; when learning to walk, for example, falls are frequent but trivial. To test the optimal penalty for errors, we trained a simulated robot to walk using real infant paths and systematically manipulated the penalty for falling. Lower penalties in training led to better performance on familiar, trained paths and on novel untrained paths, and zero penalty was most beneficial. Benefits of a low penalty were stronger for untrained than for trained paths, suggesting that discounting errors facilitates acquiring skills that require immense flexibility and generalization.
- reinforcement learning
- simulated robot
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience