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Revisiting how we operationalize joint attention.

  • Author(s): Gabouer, Allison
  • Bortfeld, Heather
  • et al.
Abstract

Parent-child interactions support the development of a wide range of socio-cognitive abilities in young children. As infants become increasingly mobile, the nature of these interactions change from person-oriented to object-oriented, with the latter relying on children's emerging ability to engage in joint attention. Joint attention is acknowledged to be a foundational ability in early child development, broadly speaking, yet its operationalization has varied substantially over the course of several decades of developmental research devoted to its characterization. Here, we outline two broad research perspectives-social and associative accounts-on what constitutes joint attention. Differences center on the criteria for what qualifies as joint attention and regarding the hypothesized developmental mechanisms that underlie the ability. After providing a theoretical overview, we introduce a joint attention coding scheme that we have developed iteratively based on careful reading of the literature and our own data coding experiences. This coding scheme provides objective guidelines for characterizing mulitmodal parent-child interactions. The need for such guidelines is acute given the widespread use of this and other developmental measures to assess atypically developing populations. We conclude with a call for open discussion about the need for researchers to include a clear description of what qualifies as joint attention in publications pertaining to joint attention, as well as details about their coding. We provide instructions for using our coding scheme in the service of starting such a discussion.

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