Social cognition, joint attention, and communicative competence from 9 to 15 months of age.

  • Carpenter M
  • Nagell K
  • Tomasello M
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Abstract

At around 1 year of age, human infants display a number of new behaviors that seem to indicate a newly emerging understanding of other persons as intentional beings whose attention to outside objects may be shared, followed into, and directed in various ways. These behaviors have mostly been studied separately. In the current study, we investigated the most important of these behaviors together as they emerged in a single group of 24 infants between 9 and 15 months of age. At each of seven monthly visits, we measured joint attentional engagement, gaze and point following, imitation of two different kinds of actions on objects, imperative and declarative gestures, and comprehension and production of language. We also measured several nonsocial-cognitive skills as a point of comparison. We report two studies. The focus of the first study was the initial emergence of infants' social-cognitive skills and how these skills are related to one another developmentally. We found a reliable pattern of emergence: Infants progressed from sharing to following to directing others' attention and behavior. The nonsocial skills did not emerge predictably in this developmental sequence. Furthermore, correlational analyses showed that the ages of emergence of all pairs of the social-cognitive skills or their components were inter-related. The focus of the second study was the social interaction of infants and their mothers, especially with regard to their skills of joint attentional engagement (including mothers' use of language to follow into or direct infants' attention) and how these skills related to infants' early communicative competence. Our measures of communicative competence included not only language production, as in previous studies, but also language comprehension and gesture production. It was found that two measures--the amount of time infants spent in joint engagement with their mothers and the degree to which mothers used language that followed into their infant's focus of attention--predicted infants' earliest skills of gestural and linguistic communication. Results of the two studies are discussed in terms of their implications for theories of social-cognitive development, for theories of language development, and for theories of the process by means of which human children become fully participating members of the cultural activities and processes into which they are born.

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Authors

  • Malinda M Carpenter

  • K K Nagell

  • Michael Tomasello

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