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Chapter 3

Infancy Chapter 3 notes.doc

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Chapter 3- Animated / inanimated distinction Relationship between social and non-social cognition I argued that infants are born with innate domains that contain representations about people, as well as particular principles on how to interact with them. If that is true, then it follows that infants must have different domains that contain representations of physical objects. That infants have specific domains for interacting with people and objects should not be surprising. This evidence shows that infant discriminations of people and inanimate agents runs deeper and does not depend purely on superficial physical phenomena. Definition of the animate/inanimate distinction They noted that although people and objects are similar in that both have physical properties (size and shape), the two classes are different because only people communicate, grow and reproduce, move independently, have feelings, intentions, and thoughts. Not only do people and objects have different properties, but they are perceived differently. When looking at people, we may initially notice their appearance and their behavior, but we tend to focus primarily on their mental states such as emotions and intentions. Objects do not have inner states and therefore we would only pay attention to the physical characteristics of objects and their functions. As a consequence of these differences, adults interact differently with the two classes. They communicate with people but act on objects. Relationships with people are complex, involving emotions and social rules. These emotions can be strong and may enhance or interfere with subsequent cognitive processes. The emotions aroused when interacting with physical objects are usually less intense, and are the result of whether one is successful or not at accomplishing a task. Theoretical perspectives on the animate/inanimate distinction Because the ability to differentiate people from other things is foundational for human development, theorists as diverse as Piaget, Rheingold, Watson, Bruner, and Trevarthen have described in detail how infants come to distinguish people from things. the innate representations infants have of people allow them to identify people as similar to the self, with emotions and intentions, but not with complex biological processes such as the ideas that people grow and reproduce. These concepts are being constructed with age. Piagets view on the animate/inanimate distinction (animism) Because infants have no initial cognitive structures (no innate knowledge), infants at birth are neither social nor cognitive creatures. They gradually learn to differentiate between self, other people, and inanimate objects during the first two years of life, at which time they develop expectations about the behavior of people and recognize that people have intentions. Thus, the traditional Piagetian assumption proposes that an understanding of the social and physical world needs to be constructed through acting on it during the infancy period. Consequently, prior to the concrete operational stage, infants confuse mental and physical events (animism) and they do not differentiate between external and internal states (e.g. talking and thinking). New research has shown that even preschoolers can distinguish between the mental and the physical when verbal tasks are being used, and that infants as young as 18 months begin to treat human behavior as intentional and distinct from that of nonsocial objects when nonverbal tasks are used. By having infants judge two-dimensional information rather than observing infants in social situations one removes essential social cues. This makes the tasks more difficult for infants, and instead of measuring social awareness, one measures the infants information processing capacities. Social interactionists showed that when infants were observed with people and nonsocial objects in natural settings, a completely different picture emerged. Already in the second month of life, infants treated people as social objects, smiling, vocalizing, and imitating their actions, whereas they treat nonsocial objects as things to be looked at and goals for attempted reaching. Such differential responsiveness has also been found in infants with Down syndrome, at an age when the infants had approximately the same mental age or level of perceptual cognitive sophistication as the nondelayed infants. Infants as young as 5 weeks will get upset when people refrain from responding, but not when physical objects remain immobile and they will imitate mouth opening and tongue protrusions modeled by people, but they do not react this way to objects simulating these gestures . In addition, 3-month-old infants have different relationships with people than with nonsocial objects. If people are responsive to infants, 3-month-old babies become happy (i.e. coo, smile etc.) and take in subsequent information faster (i.e. habituate to a multimodal stimulus) than if objects act contingently to infant actions. However, if people act in a random way, infants become distressed and fail to habituate to subsequent cognitive tasks. In contrast, if nonsocial objects respond at random to the infants actions, this does not upset the infants, and it does not seem to affect their subsequent interactions with the external environment . Thus, even for very young infants, relationships with people evoke more intense emotions than interactions with nonsocial objects, and only the relationships with people seem to affect their motivation to learn. Motion theorists Many recent attempts to explain how the infants differential responsiveness to people and nonsocial objects comes about have focused on movement. The authors list the type of motion that differentiates people from objects into the following properties: (1) onset of motion (selfpropelled vs. caused motion), (2) line of trajectory (smooth vs. irregular), (3) causal action (from a distance versus contact), (4) pattern of interaction (contingent vs. noncontingent). Human movements contain most of these four characteristics, and although most theorists emphasize one of the four characteristics over the other, it is understood that the pattern of human interactions is contingent, is self-propelled, have irregular lines of trajectory and are more often caused from a distance. Contingency analysis Watson Watson proposed that infants had to learn to differentiate between people and objects. He argued that infants were born with an innate module, e.g. a contingency detection mechanism (CDM). During the first 3 months of life, the CDM is preset to prefer perfect contingencies, which enables infants to differentiate between self and the external environment (e.g. the infant puts head on pillow; infant touches mother, etc.). It is not until 3 months of life that the CDM begins to prefer imperfect contingencies. If infants perceive imperfect contingencies between their behavior and rewarding environmental responses, they smile and coo. Thus by 3 months of age, any contingent response stimulus (social and nonsocial) will elicit attention and positive affect in infants. Watson showed that infants can learn about contingencies involving nonsocial objects when in a controlled environment. They tested whether infants would increase the movement of a leg, attached to a rotating mobile, in order to make it move. They exposed 2-month-old infants to ten minutes of noncontingent mobile rotations on each of fourteen consecutive days. When the infants were subsequently brought into the laboratory and allowed to control the movements of the mobile they failed to learn the task (transfer effect). This was in contrast to the experimental infants. Watson, infants use imperfect contingencies to separate people from objects, and because infants do not prefer imperfect contingencies until 3 months of age, they do not differentially respond to people and objects until that age. A more plausible hypothesis has been proposed by Dunham et al. (1989, p. 1494). In that study, 3-month- old infants who had received a contingent reinforcement schedule where the experimenter vocalized and touched the infants feet each time the baby vocalized responded with social behaviors (smiled and cooed), and on a subsequent transfer task showed more initial interest and habituated quicker to a multimodal stimulus than infants who had received non-contingent stimulation. The use of social stimulation during the contingent/non-contingent pretreatment phases of the paradigm may be of critical importance in the transfer effects that were obtained. If by 3 months infants are more sensitive to contingent responding of people than of objects (when the reinforcement schedule is controlled), then infant social behavior cannot be a generalized response to activity levels as suggestedby Watson (1985). Rather the infants affective states may be the result of the dynamics of the communicative exchanges infants have with their social partners. This has important implications for social and cognitive development of infants because it suggests that certain social experiences can produce changes in 3-month-old infants that generalize (transfer) to cognitive functioning. It can be expected that if experienced continuously, inadequate interactive signals of either the infant or the caregiver could have long-term consequences for further development. The responses of 3-month-old infants to persons and objects that interacted with the infants at two levels of contingency were contrasted in two experiments. In Experiment 1, contingent responding of people and objects was controlled. In Experiment 2, the facial/vocal dynamics were controlled as well as contingent responding. In both experiments, contingent interaction had different effects on infants, depending on whether the actor was a person or an object. In addition, the contingency and person/object variables influenced in
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