A Piagetian approach to infant referential behaviors
Dice, Jaime Laine
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The term joint attention refers to the ability to share attention to an object with another person. Near the end of the first year of life, infants begin producing behaviors that in adults indicate joint attention, and these behaviors have been interpreted in the cognitive developmental literature as an indication that infants have a rudimentary theory of mind. In this paper I address current theory on infant behaviors described as joint attention and offer an alternative explanation for the presence of these behaviors in infancy that does not require a theory of mind. Specifically, I argue that infants’ referential behaviors are motor signifiers of thought and that infants recognize humans as a particularly relevant object for their goal-directed behaviors. I support this argument by presenting a case study of 4 infants producing referential behaviors toward a novel toy in the presence of an adult, using a paradigm typical in joint attention studies in infancy. Finally, I discuss the implications of applying this theory for the field of cognitive development and suggest directions for future research on referential behaviors in infancy.