Demonstration of Shared Intentionality by Nigerian Infants: A Study of Some Mother-Infant Dyads

Article excerpt


Shared Intentionality was defined as a collaborative interaction in which the participants share psychological states with one another (Tomasello & Carpenter, 2007). In this study an attempt was made to establish the developmental nature of shared intentionality in some Nigerian infants.

Twenty One mothers of the (Yoruba) ethnic group, and their infants participated in the study. The ages of the infants ranged between 1 month and 18 months. The mother-infant pairs were observed in social interactions while interactional instructions were given both in the Yoruba language (for mothers) and in the English language (for video recording), to elicit the desired behavior from the infants.

Analysis of the infants' behavior showed a progressive transformational development of intentional behavior from a relatively less active state of fixated looking to more active state of gaze following and joint attention, to cooperative communication and vocalization, reciprocal and collaborative activity in form of games (e.g. reciprocal ball throwing), social learning in form of reciprocal smiling and tongue protrusion (imitation), and instructed learning in form of compliance and non-compliance with mother's request. The frequency of intentional behavior exhibited by the infants increased as age increased. In instructed learning the infants studied demonstrated intentionality more by refusal than by compliance with mothers' requests. These findings supported the notion that infants are biologically programmed and socially motivated to develop shared intentionality, and they are socially competent and capable of reciprocating intentions very early in life.

Key Words: Shared Intentionality, Nigerian Infants, Mother-Infant Dyads


Theoretical Review

Shared intentionality was defined as collaborative interactions in which participants share psychological states with one another, with the collaborative interactions involving social-cognitive and socialmotivational skills (Tomasello & Carpenter, 2007). These skills are said to be demonstrated in problem solving activities that incorporate shared goals and action plans for pursuing such goals, and in communication that involves shared linguistic experience. Tomasello (2008, 2009), proposed a dual inheritance theory to explain human uniqueness acquired through phylogenetic inheritance and shared intentionality acquired through cultural evolution. His theory consists of two hypotheses the sharing hypothesis and the machiavellan hypothesis. The sharing hypothesis proposed a direct link between the brain size of a specie and the size of the group its members live in such that the bigger the group size the bigger the brain size. He used the machiavellan hypothesis to account for the cognitive evolution of non-human primates. He identified competition as the hallmark of non- human primates' sociability while he argued that human sociability is characterized by altruistic cooperation based on sharing.

According to Tomasello (2008, 2009) the phylogenetic specificity of human kind rests in its specie-specific adaptation for sociability. He proposed that human altruism leads to shared intentionality which is defined as the ability to share attention to a third object. He premised the evolutionary basis of shared intentions on the experiences of human ancestors who were led through some kind of selection pressure to common and cooperative foraging and this led to collaboration and sharing. He further argued that what is specifically human and which explain human cultural explosion are human social skills. One of such skills is mutualism. In mutualism everyone benefits and human altruism comes from mutualism. Consequently human collaborative activities which are altruistic involve mutualism and rest on a shared goal and on the coordination of the acts of the individuals participating in its pursuit.

Tomasello concluded from his theoretical explanation of human uniqueness and shared intentionality that human beings are biologically adapted to grow and develop to maturity within a cultural context, and through collaborative efforts they have built their cultural worlds and are consistently adapting to them (Tomasello, 2009). …


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