Developmental Social Cognition: Joint Attention . Blog 1 . Blog 2 . Blog 3. Summary.
Early Social Cognition in Infants (9 months to 12 months)
Social Cognition in infants is impressive. An infant’s only job from the time they are nine months old to approximately around three years old is to learn. It is the first evolutionary step of any creature in the animal kingdom. As soon as the creature is brought into the world, they are bombarded with sensations. The sights, smells and sounds that they encounter must be distinguished and sorted immediately. In other mammals, they have most of the cognition they’ll need to survive withing the first few weeks. For humans, however, social cognition comes slowly because of the complexity of the human brain. In my last blog, I spoke about joint attention being the kick start of human social cognition. While this remains true, there is some vital growth in the area of social cognition between the ages of nine months and twelve months: twelve months being the age in which joint attention begins. Social psychologists and cognitive psychologists refer to the nine to twelve month range as early social cognition. Early social cognition is by no means perfect, it is simply a prototype to what will become joint attention and social cognition.
Early Social Cognition:
There is an ever growing body of evidence that states that during the first year of life, infants already have some capacity to represent and reason about inanimate physical objects. (reference) There are three major pieces of cognition that proves early cognition is legitimate:
- Perceptual cognition:Perceptual cognition refers to the infant’s ability to discriminate agents that move from intimate objects. One class of differentiation refers to different aspects of motion, such as biological, self propelled motion, biological agents following a disorganized, irregular path of movement, and non-rigid transformations of an object’s surface (for example, when people sit down and stand up, the form of their body changes from being a figure who was once standing, but is now sitting up.). All of these motions create a juxtaposition between inanimate objects, objects that move in a repeated, expected fashion (such as cars), and animated objects such as animals or people. This ability to differentiate the inanimate from the animated is based on the perception of intentionality. Intentionality is the fact of being purposive. It would allow the infant to make connections between where their parent is, where their parent is moving, and what the intention of the movement was once the parent has got there. (Gergely, et al., 1995)
- Behavioural cognition: Behavioural cognition refers to an infant’s ever emerging capability to engage in interactions with other animated agents in ways that suggest the ability to manipulate the other’s intentional mental state. A brilliant example of this is crying. At first, an infant’s cries are purely for discomfort. As the infant realized that their caregiver reacts a certain way and gives them what they want faster if they cry, the infant will use crying as a tool for emotional manipulation. Further proof of behavioural cognition comes from the fact that by the end of an infant’s first year of life, they have completely learned the ability to gauge the mental state of an individual based off of the emotion that runs across the face. Bretherton (Bretherton 1991) argued that “the most parsimonious explanation of [early cognition] is that, by the end of the first year, infants have acquired a rudimentary ability to impute mental states of self and other… and, further, that they have begun to understand that one mind can be interfaced with another”. To explain this quotation further, an infant bases their emotional status on the emotional states of the adults and older children around them. If a look of shock or worry flashes across a mother’s face, the child is immediately uncomfortable, knowing that previous times when the mother has made this face, something was wrong. Infants also mirror joy, sadness, and anger.
- Deferred Imitation: In humans (aged 6 months to 12 months), imitation is a skill that takes time to be able to perform. Deferred imitation is the prototype for imitation in the way that joint attention is the prototype for social cognition. In deferred imitation, infants produce (after some delay) the affect of another person’s actions on an object. The deferred part of the imitation is that they may not use the same exact movements to carryout a specific tasks. Imitation is defined as the ability to mimic an action or sound perfectly without differentiation. An example of deferred imitation is as follows: a parent lifts up a cube, and places it back down on the table, making a distinct sound. The infant may grab the cube, pick it up, swing it around in the air in their tiny fists and then set it down without making an audible noise on the table. Actual imitation doesn’t come long after deferred imitation, but harder tactile tasks will result in lower chances of proper imitation. (Jones, 2007)
In this first installment of the development of social cognition, it has been demonstrated and backed by evidence that early cognition, which precedes joint attention by months, does not yet fully emulate the complexities of human social cognition, such as bias, imagination, and self-awareness, but early cognition does show signs of perception of emotion, as well as signs of emotional manipulation, and imitation. At this stage, social cognition has a lot to do with receiving the level of care they prefer. In other words, early social cognition is an evolutionary tool to help the infant get enough nutrition, recieve protection, and get all the sleep they need. Because the infants are non-locomotive, and unable to speak at this point, the only means of social communication is through crying, and happy coos and grunts. In my next blog, I will lay out the genesis of different types of social cognition. I will specifically address the age that self-awareness, bias, and speech come to fruition, as well as the neuroscience behind these three subsets of social cognition.
Bretherton, I. (1991). Intentional communication and the development of an understanding of mind. In D. Frye & C. Moore (eds.), Children’s theories of mind (pp. 49-75). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Gergley, G. et al., (1995). Taking the intentional stance at 12 months of age. Cognition 56(2), 165-193
Jones, S. (2007). Imitation in Infancy: The Development of Mimicry, Psychological Science, 18(7), 593-599.