Attention-Sharing and Communication in Infancy

Do you see what I see?

Babies and parents sharing interest and attention

infant-parent in mutual gaze

Attention-sharing is noticing what another person is attending to, and shifting your attention to it in order to share the experience. Attention-sharing is at the heart of imitation, communication, and education. It is a specialized social behavior that helps infants learn language as well as many practical skills. The goal of the MESA project is to increase our understanding of how new attention-sharing skills and behaviors can be acquired.

Attention sharing skills start in the first year with gaze- and point-following. Our first studies showed that infants' skills are highly context-sensitive. For example, 12-month-old infants can follow gaze to targets behind them or in their periphery-evidence of "true" gaze-following. However, this response depends on factors like the location of the target, and how interesting the targets are. Also, the size of the adult's cue matters (big actions are better). By comparison, 9-month-olds are less skilled: they rarely follow gaze to a target in the periphery, but they sometimes follow a pointing arm. Similarly, infants up to 22 months are more likely to follow an adult's direction-of-gaze if she also points or verbalizes. In that study we mimicked the rich and often distracting "clutter" of everyday home environments. In that settings, infants followed adults' points, and their instructions, but not their direction of gaze. Such results underscore gaps between experimental studies and "everyday" attention-sharing.

Related Publications: Infants' growing social skills
MESA project (Modeling the Emergence of Shared Attention)