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Children's stories as inspiration for an artificial brain

Max van Duijn, Assistant Professor at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS), has been awarded a Veni grant for his research into children's empathy. The ability to empathise can be studied by telling stories. This process, known as 'Theory of Mind' or ‘mindreading’, can provide important insights for humanities and developmental psychology, as well as artificial intelligence.


Last year, Van Duijn received a grant from the Elise Mathilde Foundation and the Leiden University Fund (LUF) to set up a pilot study to study 'mindreading'. In the pilot study he developed, in collaboration with students, an app that offers children the opportunity to autonomously tell stories to an avatar. With this app Van Duijn approaches children in a new way. With the Veni he plans to further expand his research into the development of children as storytellers, by investigating stories of children with different ages.

Inspiration for artificial intelligence

The project is innovative on several levels. ‘When we tell a story, we have to actively take a perspective from another person. By analysing how children of different ages do this, "mindreading" can be better understood. More insight into mindreading can also serve as a source of inspiration for modelling an artificial brain,’ explains Van Duijn. The analysis of the research has an innovative aspect as well. In addition to qualitative analysis, he will analyse the data using quantitative, data-driven techniques.

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