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Chapter 2

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Chapter 2 Endogenous and exogenous influences in development Human beings acquire information both from biology and culture in the acquisition of various social cognitive milestones. Just like other animals, humans have innate predispositions that not only contain the blueprint for physical maturation but, unlike many animal species, human infants have domains that contain sets of representations that sustain a specific area of knowledge such as language, number, and physics but also sociality. I like to argue that the development of an awareness of the mental states of others requires considerable social interaction in order to develop into the complex capacity that it is. However, not all environmental and social interactions are beneficial or important for ToM development. Therefore, the specific social domain contains knowledge of people, but also domain specific constraints that propel infants to focus on input that is specific to people and their mental states. Thus the endogenous processes or predispositions facilitate engagement in pre- linguistic dyadic communication. During these interactions, infants share emotions and imitate the expressions of people, thereby enhancing mutual awareness and promoting identification with social partners. The endogenous processes allow infants to adapt to, and to learn from, the external environment, to optimize and also to recognize exogenous factors that are especially important for ToM development. Exogenous factors interact with the endogenous factors, and play a formative role in the development of an understanding of the mental states of people. The endogenous and exogenous processes also propel infants into the subsequent triadic state, where infants begin to communicate with conspecifics about objects and interesting events. During the triadic state, infants show and request objects, they point out interesting events in the environment with gestures and vocalizations, and they show that they are aware when others reference, want, or desire objects. Infants have endogenous factors that give them a head start in the developmental process and prepare them to take advantage of species-specific exogenous factors. Endogenous factors like me Infants innate abilities to recognize that they are similar to other people, that they are of the same species as humans and different from other animals and physical objects, are important factors in the development of a Theory of Mind. Rather than just being shaped and reinforced for producing closer approximations of adult behaviors, infants are innately programmed to identify with conspecifics and to interact with them. Through such social interactions infants understanding of other minds becomes consolidated. Preference for human stimuli From birth, infants actively use their visual and auditory systems to acquire information about their surroundings and themselves. Infants are visually attracted to movement, contour, contrast, certain levels of complexity, and curvature. Using preferential looking paradigms of two-dimensional stimuli, researchers have shown that by 2 months, infants discriminate between the faces of mothers and female strangers (Barrera and Maurer, 1981), and by 4 months, they distinguish among the faces of a man, woman, and a baby (Fagan, 1972). The results suggest that rather than having to construct a notion of a human face out of the various physical parameters mentioned above, infants may be born with some kind of template for faceness (e.g. primal specification of some structural characteristics of the human face called CONSPEC. Newborns spend more time looking at their mothers faces than at strangers faces. This demonstrates that they are able to recognize their mothers faces as familiar and suggest that this activity cannot be regulated by sensory information alone, it must also involve information stored in memory, that is, some of this information is represented by infants. Auditory perception also appears to be well developed in newborns. Unlike the visual system, the auditory system is stimulated in utero . Preferential sucking paradigms have shown that newborns attend preferentially to human speech over other sounds. At one month, they make fine distinctions among speech sounds and discriminate between linguistic contrasts not available in their mother tongue. Newborns also retain information about syllables and, just as with human face stimuli, infants at birth recognize the voices of their mothers (to whom they were familiarized in the womb) from those of female strangers. These findings suggest that infants are prepared to recognize and represent human stimuli. Because infants have demonstrated that they represent information of visual and auditory stimulation of people, this sensitivity for social stimuli may already be at a more structural rather than simply a perceptual level. It appears that infants with autism do not show such preference for human stimulation; these infants also have shortcomings in the development of a Theory of Mind. These findings support the idea that an early preference for human stimuli can be regarded as precursors to Theory of Mind development. Imitation and cross-modal perception The special awareness infants have for people is evident in their preference for human stimuli, but also in the various social responses infants produce when facing people. For instance, soon after birth infants imitate gestures of people, but not of inanimate objects that simulate these gestures . This indicates that imitation is a social mechanism to learn about people. When humans behave, or imitate the behavior of the infant, they reflect how infants behave, and consequently how they feel and what they intend. Through this recreation, infants begin to focus on the meaning of these behaviors rather than on the physical features. Thus the ability to re-create the behaviors of others make these behaviors significant. It allows for imitative learning to take place. Imitative learning or intentional imitation occurs when infants learn to separate the means from their goals, thereby demonstrating an understanding of something about human intentions. The earliest evidence of infant imitation can be found in neonatal reproduction of mouth opening and tongue protrusions, proprioceptive types of behaviors that infants can only feel themselves produce, but not see. According to Piaget the senses are not coordinated at birth. Thus an object heard cannot be identified with an object seen. These modalities (the visual, auditory, and others) become coordinated in infancy through experience through touching, grabbing, and shaking things, infants come to perceive that the rattle is a round, shining sound-producing object, rather than a series of unconnected stimuli. Adults use language when communicating between the senses. They tell the visual sense that the sound that woke them up in the middle of the night was produced by the basketball player in front of the house. Because infants do not have language, how do infants communicate from one sense to the other? Meltzoff and Moore (1977) argue that neonatal imitation is made possible through cross-modal matching. Cross-modal matching, or active intermodal mapping, is an ability that allows the infant to communicate between the senses through an abstract representational system that is not modality specific. When infants perceive human acts in one modality (e.g. visual, auditory), this information is stored in amodal form (not modality specific). This way it can be recognized and used by other senses. In the case of imitating proprioceptive acts, such as mouth opening and tongue protrusion, the infant can reproduce (tactile modality) the act seen (visual modality). In order to imitate infants must perceive and then reproduce the vocal sounds of the actor (just like the infants do with facial movements). The speech infants hear has multimodal qualities. When adults speak, the voice not only emanates from the mouth, but the lip movements match the pattern of the spoken language . The perception of speech sounds by adults and infants has been shown to be influenced by both auditory and visual properties of the vocal act. Who heard /a/ vowels responded with /a/ vowels, and those who heard the /i/ vowels responded with /i/ vowels. However, Kuhl and Meltzoff did not vary independently the visual and auditory components involved in reproduction of the speech signal, and therefore it is not clear whether the infants were imitating the sound produced by filmed faces or the mouth movements (the proprioceptive movements). Only the imitation of the mouth movements would imply cross-modal mapping (e.g. the kinesthetic reproduction of a visually perceived target). We addressed this concern . We presented 3 4-month-old infants with the vowel sounds /a/ and /u/. For one half of the infants, these sounds were paired with an adult who silently articulated the same vowel; for the other half, the adult articulated the opposite one. Only the infants who were exposed to matched auditory andvisual information were observed to imitate the vowels . Clearly, infants paid attention to both the sound and the mouth movement. Thus, according to Meltzoff and Moore , imitation allows infants through cross-modal matching to perceive others to be like me. This like me awareness is the starting or building block for social cognition and not an end-point after months of postnatal learning. Infants imitate actions of people and not of inanimate objects, not only informs about the endogenous ability of infants to perceive others like me, but it also suggests something about the imitative response. Rather than being a reflexive response, that can be elicited by certain stimuli (those that seem to move toward the mouth, are self-propelled, or have a particular form, shape copies of social stimuli such as tongues, mout
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