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Infants' understanding of social interaction

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Social learning in infants

Infants live in a highly social world, and they have a predisposition to focus on the people around them. An EU-funded project studied how infants learn to recognise social interactions.

Climate Change and Environment

The project 'Infants' understanding of social interaction' (INFANT INTERACTION) had two main objectives. The first was to determine how and when infants develop the ability to recognise social interactions. The second was to examine the role of these experiences in developing social understanding. To address the first objective, the project's initial study used eye tracking to assess 18-month–old infants' abilities to recognise social interactions and connect their actions into collaborative sequences. One group of Infants was presented with actions by two actors that could be interpreted as a collaborative sequence (to move a block to one location and then another). A second group was shown actors working individually to move their own block to a new location. The researchers found that, based on the infants' anticipatory gaze, the infants who saw the actors engaged in a social interaction expected their actions to be part of a collaborative sequence. In contrast, the infants who saw the non-social actors did not have this expectation. Follow-up studies with another group of 18-month–old infants as well as with a group of 14-month–old infants were also carried out. Although there were some modifications in the experimental design, the 18-month–olds were able to use social cues to anticipate the actors' collaborative goals. The results from the 14-month–olds are still being analysed, but the expectation is that they won't be as proficient in anticipating collaborative actions. A third study was conducted to examine how 24-month–olds learn through imitation. After watching adults and young children demonstrate how to use a toy, their actions were coded to see whom they imitated the most. Researchers found that the infants imitated females more than males, suggesting that early experiences with females affect social learning. These findings add to the understanding of infants' development of social interactions. They also have wider application. Plans are in place to use similar experiments to determine the social development of children with autism and other disorders.


Social learning, infants, social interaction, social understanding, eye tracking, collaborative sequences, anticipatory gaze

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