Joint Attention: Its Origins and Role in Development

By Chris Moore; Philip J. Dunham | Go to book overview

Chapter 11
The Development of Joint Attention in Premature Low Birth Weight Infants: Effects of Early Medical Complications and Maternal Attention-Directing Behaviors

Susan H. Landry
University of Texas Medical School: Houston

The development of early problem solving, communication, and affective skills occurs, to a great extent, within a social context ( Bruner, 1974; Schaffer, 1977). Infants develop these early skills through joint attention interactions with their caretakers. Joint attention is the ability to coordinate attention with another person to an object or topic of shared interest ( Bruner, 1975). The ability to share attention to toys with another person is especially important because it signals the emergence of the skills that are precursors to more advanced cognitive and language abilities ( Bakeman & Adamson, 1984; Bruner, 1977; Sugarman, 1984) and allows children the opportunity to learn about the properties and functions of objects ( Lockman & McHale, 1989).

The development of joint attention skills spans most of infancy ( Bakeman & Adamson, 1984). At around 6 months of age, most infants gain the ability to attend to both mothers and toys simultaneously and a new world of social interaction and shared learning opens to them ( Newson & Newson, 1975). In this early stage of joint attention, infants are not able to easily shift their gaze back and forth from toys to their mothers in order to signal their interest in particular toys ( Kaye & Fogel, 1980). Toward the end of the first year, infants begin to follow another's gaze and respond to gestures such as pointing and showing ( Lempers, Flavell, & Flavell, 1977). Switching their gaze back and forth from caretaker to object becomes more coordinated for infants during the second year, along with the ability to signal their interest in sharing attention with another person ( Bakeman & Adamson, 1984; Bates, 1979; Leung & Rheingold, 1981).

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