Infants’ understanding of their social world
Infants’ understanding of their social world

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Infants’ understanding of their social world

Learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • define what psychologists mean by ‘rich’ understanding

  • compare and contrast the different perspectives of psychologists who argue that infants have a rich understanding of their social world

  • critically evaluate the role that the infant plays during infant–adult social interactions

Researchers have tried to answer questions about whether infants have a ‘rich’ or ‘poor’ understanding of their social world. Here we look at the possibility that they have a ‘rich’ understanding. This course involves reading several published articles so you can see the arguments in their original form. When thinking about these issues, it will be important to reflect on your own assumptions about infant abilities and to critically evaluate relevant research, findings and theory.

In outlining the view that infants have a ‘rich’ interpretation of their social world, we first set the scene by describing the observations and views contained in a book about the early social development of a particular child. This extract provides a useful illustration of the impressions that some people have about the social understandings of young children. This is followed by two readings. In both cases, the researchers wrestle with the difficult issue of trying to scientifically study the contribution of infants to the process of early social interaction.

In both examples, the researchers acknowledge that if a strictly objective view is taken then we may fail to identify important infant abilities. The discussion of this issue is followed by a consideration of three different, but related, proposals about infants having a ‘rich’ understanding of their social world: that infants are born with a motivation to communicate and influence people, that they are born with the ability to understand that other people are similar to themselves, and that infants’ understanding of their relations with people emerges out of intimate social interaction.


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