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Departmental Colloquium: Ontogeny of human communication and social cognition

Ulf Liszkowski
Wednesday, January 25, 2023, 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm

Understanding each other is a core feature of human psychology. Classic studies have focused on the acquisition of language and Theory of Mind in children. I argue that both skills emerge from an earlier ontogenetic basis, and I propose a developmental process of social construction that runs deep in ontogeny. I will first present evidence for a prelinguistic gestural basis of human communication entailing an understanding of shared reference around one year of age, notably when infants begin to point. Second, based on a series of recent studies, I will argue that this form of communication and social cognition is best characterized as an aligning of mental states, but not yet a confronting of different perspectives, which emerges in children’s spontaneous acts of misinforming and lying around 3 years of age. Third, I will present recent findings from the first year of life on the emergence of shared reference. These findings reveal simpler forms of understanding others’ referential communication before pointing has emerged; and predictors of pointing in caregivers’ interactive behaviours and infants’ object-directed activities. I propose the act of object transpositions as a source for developing shared reference. Ongoing research addresses developmental interactions with temperamental biases.