Joint Attention, Affect, and Culture
Lauren B. Adamson Duncan McArthur Georgia State University
Midway through infancy, children begin to share objects with adults. Previously, the scope of their activity had been primarily interpersonal. Soon it will expand without bounds as language draws distant and imaginary events near. But for several months, infants' interests are located in an attentional sphere filled with local happenings and intimate caregivers.
In this chapter, we explore the implications of this developmental situation. Our plan is two-fold. First, we consider what it means to view joint attention developmentally. Here we argue that the temporal placement of the first episodes of joint attention provides rich soil for cultivation of the meaning of objects. Then, we illustrate this claim by drawing two sketches from our research on communication during episodes of joint attention. The first sketch displays how emotional messages about objects may vary as a function of infants' gender. The second sketch reveals a specific deficit in the receptive joint attention skills of preverbal children with autism that may impede their initiation into culture and its conventions of meaning.
By definition, joint attention involves a dynamic arrangement between infants, objects, and social partners. This is a complex arrangement that depends on the convergence of many components. One way to introduce some of these compo-