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Chapter 1

Infancy Chapter 1

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PSYC 3520
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Chapter 1- Definitions, theories, and plan of the book -She is born with some specific abilities to predict what people can do. She quickly learns that people can change their minds and may make mistakes. These capacities are the result of some innate foundations or predispositions infants have, that facilitate their interactions with people. Defining a Theory of Mind -By about 4 years of age, children produce a variety of internal state terms when describing people’s actions, such as believing, thinking, and feeling. It has been suggested that the use of these terms implies that children hold complex mental states that allow them to attribute internal representations to people (e.g. ‘‘John believes that the apple is in the cupboard,’’. Three-year-olds do not readily understand or talk about beliefs; instead, they focus on the person’s desire (e.g. John wants an apple). Even 2-year-olds understand that people want or desire things, and that therefore they will act to get these things. Consequently, Wellman has argued that ‘‘before becoming belief- desire psychologists, young children are simple desire psychologists.’’ Because these developmental changes – from primitive to complex understandings of emotions, desires, and beliefs – seem like actual theory changes, this phenomenon is called the infant’s developing Theory of Mind (ToM). For instance, when watching people directing their attention and emotion toward objects in the environment, infants with a primitive understanding of mental states are aware that these cues may signal the person’s intention to act on the object, but they do not understand that people may have mental representations about the object (e.g. that the person thinks that the apple is sweet). Although much work has been done to investigate the child’s understanding of beliefs and desires. Defining intentions Socio-cognitive view During the first two years of life, infants progress from understanding other persons as intentional agents, to understanding that others have intentions that may differ from their own, and finally to an understanding that not all observable acts are intentional (accidental versus purposeful acts etc.). By the third and fourth year, infants’ developing Theory of Mind goes through similar hierarchical levels: from understanding that other people have thoughts and beliefs, to understanding that these thoughts and beliefs may differ from their own, to an awareness that people may have beliefs that do not match reality. The first two years infants do not understand that people have thoughts (can represent things); they only understand that people are driven by concrete goals and purposes (have simple mental states). Socio-cognitive psychologists have defined intentionality as actions or behaviors that are about things, e.g. that are directed toward a goal. Some theorists propose that actions that are directed toward things are driven by mental states (e.g. the infant has a plan in its head before it is behaviorally executed); whereas others put forth a purely behavioral or perceptual explanation (e.g. the infant’s behavior is a response to a particular stimulus). The development of mental states in infants as beginning at birth. Most cognitive developmental psychologists do not argue about whether the infant’s behavior is driven by mental states. Instead, the debate surrounds the age of onset of an awareness of mental states. From birth infants are aware that they are the object of people’s attention and that some months later they become aware that a third object (in addition to the infant) becomes the focus of attention of their communicative partner. Thus, from very early on in life, infants reveal that they are related to objects and that they perceive others to be related to objects. During the dyadic period infants interpret people’s attention as an intention to communicate; if they don’t, infants get upset. During the triadic period, infants interpret people’s attention as an awareness of the external world, and may point to share interesting aspects of this world. Thus, these authors argue that infants have simple mental states from birth that allow them to perceive people’s behavior to be ‘‘about’’ things. If so, then the development of mental states is a continuous process and an understanding of more complex mental states is constructed with experience. they believe that an awareness of intentions in others occurs toward the end of the first year when infants begin to use several means to achieve a goal. Becoming intentional themselves leads infants to perceive intentions in others as a result of biological abilities to perceive others ‘‘like me’’. More classically cognitive and prepared learning theorists propose that an understanding of the self as an intentional agent only lays the foundation for an understanding that the other is an intentional agent who has internal experiences, such as emotions, beliefs, and desires. These theorists argue that the infants’ sociocognitive development is the result of innate biological processes (e.g. assimilation, accommodation, and interiorization) that prepares the infant to act intentionally around 8– 10 months and to perceive others as intentional agents around 18– 24 months. The strength of the discontinuous positions is that intentionality is definitely present by 1 or 2 years of age. The three weaknesses are that (1) there is no discussion of the mechanisms that bring about developmental changes in behavior (e.g. how does the infant proceed from being a behaviorist to becoming a psychologist during the first year of life), (2) there is no explanation or description on what the origin of mental state awareness is (e.g. it is suddenly there), and (3) the role social interaction in the development of an awareness of mental states plays. Innate inter-subjectivity theorists There is a large body of evidence indicating that infants from the beginning of life show a special sensitivity to communication and engage in bi-directional affective interactions with their caregivers that are characterized by a turn-taking structure during which both infants and caregiver participate in emotional sharing. For instance, Legerstee et al. (1987) showed in a longitudinal study (from 3 to 53 weeks) that, already by 5 weeks, infants had specific expectations about the communicative behavior of their partners. Infants were presented with conditions where communicative people and interactive dolls responded contingently to the eye movements of the infants, but also with conditions where the person remained ‘passive’ and the doll remained immobile. Already by 5 weeks, infants expected people to communicate with them when in face to face situations. If they didn’t infants became upset and began to cry. By about 6 months infants begin to look where others are looking and start to integrate object-focused attention into their play. Adamson and Bakeman call this period in communication development of the infant the nonverbal referencing phase, when ‘‘gaze patterns, vocalizations, and gestures increasingly serve the referential function of introducing a new topic for discussion, a new message that the thing over there is what I want to communicate about, to comment on.’’ This period where infants begin to communicate about objects and events in the environment has been called secondary inter-subjectivity. Thus infants progress in communicative development from expressing their intentions in dyadic interactions early in development (either with people or objects) to expressing their intentions involving objects during triadic interactions during the second half of the first year. Intentions as precursors to Theory of mind A Theory of Mind is one of the most fundamental aspects of human development. In order to participate in social interactions, to understand early nonverbal behavior and emotional expressions, to predict goal-directed behavior of others, humans need to understand that they and other people have mental states, that both possess information (in their minds) that can be predicted to some extend and also shared, and that the information two people have about a particular event may differ. Research showed that infants as young as 3 months were aware that objects move as a whole and do not come apart; thus these infants understand the principle of cohesion. Somewhat later, between 3 and 6 months, infants begin to recognize that objects move on nonintersecting paths (principle of continuity) and that they cannot occupy the same space at the same time (principle of solidity). Infants younger than 6 months also realize that objects can make other objects move if and only if they touch; thus at that age infants are also aware of the principle of contact. Physical principles will not help in understanding people as psychological entities. When infants start to see others as psychological entities, they begin to understand that people are motivated by mental states. Whereas many social cognitive theorists are very clear that infants develop an awareness of simple mental states (intentions), they are not clear about the age of onset (e.g. at birth; around 9– 12; or at 18– 24 months of life). More importantly, they are less clear on what happens prior to the onset of intentions. ‘‘intentionality’’ is defined in various ways by various authors, depending much on their theoretical orientation, namely whether they emphasize biological (innate) versus cultural/environmental factors, or an interaction between the two in the development of an understanding of intentionality in infants. Theoretical speculations: onset of mental state awareness Piaget’s view The newborn baby does not have an awareness of the mental states of other people. Rather, Piaget designed a baby with reflexes that only reacts to incoming stimulation for the first months of life. After much reflexive action on the world (e.g. sucking on a blanket or the breast) and with the help of biological mechanisms of assimilation and accommodation, infants learn to discriminate between the two classes. It is at that moment that reflexes turn int
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