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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Sensorimotor Dynamics of Joint Attention


Social interactions are composed of coordinated, multimodal behaviors with each individual taking turns and sharing attention. By the second year of life, infants are able to engage in coordinated interactions with their caregivers. Although research has focused on the social behaviors that enable parent-infant dyads to engage in joint attention, little work has been done to understand the sensorimotor mechanisms underlying coordination. Using wireless head-mounted eye trackers and motion sensing, we recorded 31 dyads as they played freely in a home-like laboratory. We identified moments of visual joint attention, when parent and infant were looking at the same object, and then measured the dyad’s head and hand movements during and around joint attention. We found evidence that both parents and infants still their bodies during joint attention. We also compared instances of joint attention that were led by the parent or by the infant and identified different sensorimotor pathways that support the two types of joint attention. These results provide the foundation for continued exploration of the critical role of sensorimotor processes on coordinated social behavior and its development.

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