Developmental Social Cognition: Joint Attention . Blog 1 . Blog 2 . Blog 3. Summary.
Following through with the theme of early child development and social cognition, this week’s focus is on child development and self awareness. Self awareness is one of the largest subsets in social psychology as a whole. Self awareness is the ability for human beings to realize their uniqueness, and understand that their uniqueness can cause change in the environments around them. Self awareness manifests itself in infancy, and is completely developed by the time the child reaches between the ages of three and four. From that point on, the rest of our lives are spent being painfully aware of our uniqueness, and trying to figure out how to best channel into interactions with the greater world.
There are six steps of the development of self awareness that take place between nine months of age, and three to four years in age. The six stages of the development of self awareness are listed below. After the steps, I will go into more detail on delays of self awareness due to developmental disabilities such as autism, and delays on self awareness due to abuse and other adversities.
- Level Zero: Confusion:
At level zero, the subject is completely oblivious to mirror reflections, and in fact, mirrors themselves. An infant looking into a mirror at their reflection at this stage would not register the mirror, but simply address the reflection as if it were another baby. Level zero is the level of consciousness of most birds, small mammals, reptiles and insects. A mirror in the cage of a bird can keep the bird company, and when birds fly into windows, it is a result of not realizing that the reflection is not an extended view of the landscape in front of them.
* Level zero self awareness can also occur in adults when they pass a reflection of themselves and spook themselves because for a brief moment, they believe that a stranger is walking beside them.
- 1. Level One: Differentiation
This is the first indication that individuals are not oblivious of mirrors as reflection. More specifically, subjects realize that what they are looking at is not quite right, as the reflection mirrors the same actions that the subject does. Differentiation will allow the child to be able to judge reflection from reality.
- 2. Level Two: Situation
Individuals now go beyond the awareness of matched surface characteristics of seen and felt movement. As compared with the first level, level two presents the image of an infant looking at the mirror without confusion. The infant knows what a mirror is, and realizes that they can make themselves laugh by making certain faces. This action can be described as proto-narcissism.
- 3. Level Three: Identification
At this level, the subject is able to identify the object in the mirror as “me”, and not another individual staring at them, copying the same movements as them. This level of identification is tested by placing a sticky note on the infant’s forehead. The child sees i in the mirror, reaches for it, and realizes that they can touch it on their own bodies, and remove the sticky and play with it. This leads the subject to the realization that they have control over the reflection. The reflection is them. Psychologists refer to this test as the index of an emerging conceptual self.
- 4. Level Four: Permanence
This level of self awareness moves beyond the use of a mirror. At this stage, the infant is now a toddler. They are able to identify themselves in photographs, and make the connection that younger recordings or pictures of them when they were younger are of them as well. In other words, the identification of self is not tied to exact copies of themselves, but is tied to the way they look, regardless of what outfit they were wearing in the picture or what age they were in the picture that was taken of them. A permanent self image is expressed, and the child realizes that while they may wear different clothes and grow every single day, they are still themselves.
- 5. Level Five: Self Consciousness (or “meta” self-awareness)
In this stage, the subject is not only able to view themselves from a first person perspective, but from a third person perspective. They become aware of the ways that they are perceived by others. This develops around the age of three or four, and becomes apparent as they interact and play with other children. At this stage, they may realize that other kids look at them funny for participating in certain behaviours, or perhaps are able to gauge the way the parent feels about them based on the look on their face. (Rochat, 2003)
Delay in Self Awareness
Children with Autism:
For children on the autism spectrum, self-awareness can be hard. Self-awareness is something that might be learned later in life based on the severity of the subject’s autism. Many tests have been done on children with autism to try in promote self-awareness. If a person with autism can be self-aware, it can help them engage with people in their external environment. Because using a mirror can be one of the first steps to form self-awareness, this is often the first tool that is tried to help people with autism discover themselves. In a study done by Rochat, the group found that using a mirror to promote self awareness in people with autism was only effective in two out of six of the subjects. The self-awareness of the children was limitted to calling themselves by their name instead of using I or Me. This is completely fine. Again, the best way to reach a child with autism is to help them engage with something they find interesting. Studies show that children with autism can detect the reflections of objects much better than they can detect themselves in reflections. (Duff & Flattery Jr., 2014)
Abuse and Adversity:
In a study by Briere and Rickards, the scientists define three different types of abuse that contribute most highly to delay in self-awareness. The three different types are maternal emotional abuse, paternal emotional non support, and childhood sexual assault. These three kinds of abuse have the power to drive children to become non-verbal, let alone having difficulty with self-awareness. “Abandonment Concerns, Identity Impairment, Susceptibility to Inﬂuence, Affect Dysregulation, and Tension Reduction Activities were all associated with having been emotionally abused by a mother ﬁgure; Interpersonal Conﬂicts, Abandonment Concerns, and Tension Reduction Behaviors were associated with low levels of emotional support by a father ﬁgure; and all areas of self-disturbance except for interpersonal Conﬂicts and Identity Impairment were associated with childhood sexual abuse.”(Briere and Rickards, 2007) While childhood sexual abuse and paternal emotional no-support cause problems, it is the maternal emotional abuse under which the child’s development will be stunted. Without the parent -child bond to establish trust and love, the natural ability for the child to want to play with the mother and be held is impeded, and thus, tasks like joint attention as well as this mirror study are harder for these children to learn.
Next week I will be finishing this trilogy off with first language acquisition.
Briere, J. & Rickards, S. (2007). Self-awareness, affect regulation, and relatedness -Differential sequels of childhood versus adult victimization experiences. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 195(6). 497-503.
Duff, C.K. & Flattery Jr., J.J.(2014). Developing mirror self awareness in students with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(5). 1027.
Rochat, P. (2003). Five levels of self-awareness as they unfold early in life. Consciousness and Cognition, 12, 717-731.