1.2 Objectivity, science and early social interaction
You have just read claims about early infant abilities; the claims are based on careful observation, but nonetheless are an interpretation of infant capacities. In the following two readings, the authors debate with the issue that strictly scientific studies of early social interaction might underestimate the abilities of young infants.
Firstly, read the review of Vasudevi Reddy’s (2008) book, How Infants Know Minds, in The Times entitled ‘Liar, liar pants on fire’ (Carlowe, 2008) below. This provides useful background information for reading Reddy’s journal article. In the review you can see a disagreement about the interpretation of infant behaviour involving ‘deception’.
Now read Reddy, V. (2007) ‘Getting back to the rough ground: deception and “social living”’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B, vol. 362, no. 1480, pp. 621–37.
Reddy argues that the complexity of social interaction makes scientific study of this process difficult (and gooey), but that if we are to understand social processes then this complexity is at the heart of the activity – in particular read pages 622–3. Her argument is presented in relation to ‘taking deception seriously’, and she attacks the notion that deception must involve a theory of mind, i.e. deception means trying to put in someone else’s mind a different idea from what one knows or feels. A large range of observations are reported which indicate that children younger than 4 years appear to deceive others. Pages 633–4 are worth reading carefully as these contain interesting proposals about how infants come to be able to deceive.
Note that there are very few observations of deception before about 9 months, and this suggests that more limited processes and understanding may be occurring in earlier interactions.
Check that you understand Reddy’s claims about deception. In particular, what is she suggesting about the way infants develop the ability to deceive others?
Think about incidences of deception or teasing you have experienced with your children or children who you know. How did you interpret the intentions of the child, and what led to you interpreting their behaviour in this way?
Now listen to the audio interview with Vasudevi Reddy, paying attention to the way she sees her views as being different from those who believe infants have very limited social understandings.
Transcript: Vasu Reddy interview
- What explanatory concept about development do you think Reddy favours in the audio?
- Think back to your responses to the reflection activity above. Has reading Reddy’s work changed your mind or challenged your original interpretation of the behaviour you have experienced with children you know?
- Do you agree with Reddy’s argument that research methodologies which focus on controlled experiments (which control what Reddy describes as ‘goo’) might leave questions unanswered?