2.3 Social interaction provides a basis for self–other distinction
In contrast to the views of Trevarthen and Meltzoff, another perspective about infant social abilities is that they grow out of experience of interaction with other people. This viewpoint is put forward in the reading below.
The next reading is Zeedyk, M.S. (2006) ‘From intersubjectivity to subjectivity: the transformative roles of emotional intimacy and imitation’, Infant and Child Development, 15, pp. 321–44.
Zeedyk summarises her argument as follows:
- Adult–infant interactions involve emotional intimacy;
- Emotional intimacy provides the basis for the transformation in infant capacities;
- Imitation is a powerful means of establishing intimacy.
The three sections following the introduction are concerned with these three points. In the first of these sections, Zeedyk reviews evidence in support of her view that adult–infant interactions involve emotional intimacy. Particularly important to some of our concerns is the second section ‘Intimacy is transformative’ (pp. 326–31). Here Zeedyk agrees with others that early social experiences and interactions provide a ‘cradle’ for the development of individual capacities. She believes that two significant processes involving emotional intimacy affect infants’ understanding of others: (i) being the object of another’s attention, and (ii) anticipating the other’s next action. Zeedyk follows Reddy (2003) in supposing that infants begin to experience self-consciousness and self-awareness because of the attention of others. This allows the separation of the infant ‘I’ and the adult ‘you’ (the I–you relation). A key quote is ‘I literally come to know myself – through your eyes’ (p. 327). As Zeedyk points out, this differs from other views which suppose that infants use their experiences of their self to make sense of others (e.g. the ‘like-me’ hypothesis of Meltzoff, 2007; see also Tomasello, 1999).
In the third substantive part of this article, Zeedyk suggests that imitation provides an important vehicle for the establishment of emotional intimacy. She suggests that imitation draws attention away from the action of the self, to the actions of the other person because there is an interesting discrepancy between what the self has done and what the other is doing. In other words, the attention moves from the self to the similar but different acts of the other.
Now listen to the interview with Suzanne Zeedyk, where she talks about her article, ‘From intersubjectivity to subjectivity: the transformative roles of emotional intimacy and imitation’.