Developing Theories of Intention: Social Understanding and Self-Control

Developing Theories of Intention: Social Understanding and Self-Control

Developing Theories of Intention: Social Understanding and Self-Control

Developing Theories of Intention: Social Understanding and Self-Control

Synopsis

The chapters collected in this volume represent the "state-of-the-art" of research on the development of intentional action and intentional understanding--topics that are at the intersection of current research on imitation, early understanding of mental states, goal-directed behavior in nonhuman animals, executive function, language acquisition, and narrative understanding, to name just a few of the relevant foci. Collectively, the contributors demonstrate that intentionality is a key issue in the cognitive and social sciences. Moreover, in a way that was anticipated more than a century ago by the seminal work of J. Mark Baldwin, they are beginning to reveal how the control of action is related in development to children's emerging self-conscious and their increasingly sophisticated appreciation of other people's perspectives.

This volume brings together the world's leading researchers on early social and cognitive development in an in-depth exploration of children's understanding of themselves and others.

Excerpt

The current volume grew out of a small conference, Developing Intentions in a Social World, that was held at University College, University of Toronto, in April, 1997. The conference was designed to assess the "state of the art" of research on the development of intention vis-à-vis social understanding and self-control, but it also served to commemorate the university's long history as a center for inquiry into this topic. In 1891, J. Mark Baldwin established the first fully equipped psychology laboratory at University College (apparently the first in the British Commonwealth) and began a seminal series of studies (e.g., Baldwin, 1891, 1892a, 1892b, 1894) on the emergence of intentional imitation in infancy and its relation to the developing socius--the child's sense of self and other. These studies culminated in his landmark books, Mental Development in the Child and the Race (1895) and Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development (1897), the influence of which has been pervasive but, until recently, largely filtered through the writings of Jean Piaget.

A renewed interest in the issues addressed directly by Baldwin probably derives in part from several sources including: a growing appreciation of the sociocultural work of Vygotsky and Luria; recent work in developmental neuropsychology on the topic of prefrontal cortical function; and widespread fascination with the problem of consciousness. However, one obvious antecedent of this interest is research on children's beliefs about the mind--their "theory of mind." It will be noted that many of the contributors to the current volume were participants in the 1986 Developing Theories of Mind Conference at the University of Toronto. That conference, organized by Janet Astington, Lynd Forguson, Alison Gopnik, and David Olson, helped to establish theory of mind as a major focus on research. As a result of that research, we have learned a great deal about children's egocentrism and their ideas about thought and misleading appearances. Now, however, many theory-of-mind researchers are returning to questions posed more than a century ago by Baldwin: questions about the control of action and how this control is related to children's developing self-consciousness and their increasingly sophisticated appreciation of other people's perspectives. As will be clear from the . . .

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