In theories of development, an important but
controversial question is whether or not young infants
are social beings. For example, it is often argued
that, while infants may appear to interact with adults,
this is a mistaken impression until such a time as they
have fulfilled certain theoretically defined criteria
The aims of this study were first, empirically to
evaluate arguments for and against the view that
infants have an EtXel,i sensitivity to other persons,
and secondly, if such a sensitivity were found, to
discover how it develops during the first six months of
Both an experiment and detailed naturalistic
observations were made to answer the first question.
The experiment produced preliminary evidence that the
behaviour of two- month -olds is consistently different
with persons and with graspable objects. This finding
was supported by fine -grain analysis of a filmed
interaction between a two -month -old and her mother
which produced conclusive evidence that young infants
are sensitive not only to the form of others' actions
but to the social significance of their actions, insofar
as those actions affect the infant's immediate
Subsequent observations and experiments were made to
find how social sensitivity or 'intersubjectivity'
develops during the first six months of life. These
involved comparisons between infants' behaviour when
interacting with their mother, with strangers and with
novel and familiar face -masks. Behaviour was recorded
on video-tape for approximately four minutes in each
condition, twice a month, between six and twenty -eight
weeks of age. Findings showed that there is a peak of
social interest between six and ten weeks of age which
is followed by a decline. This decline was due to a
general increase in infants' ability to take active
control of their surroundings - typified by their
increased interest in objects and in playing interpersonal
games (as opposed to participating in 'conversational'
adult-infant exchanges). Associated with
this decline of interest was increased 'negativity'
during interactions with the mother and with other
stimuli (i.e. actions of refusing or shutting out
contact with other entities). Twelve examples of
negativity are described in detail.
The thesis also includes a theoretical contribution
to Lacan's and Winnicott's notion of 'mirroring', based
on the analysis of maternal babytalk. This suggests
that mirroring is not simply a social phenomenon but is
also an ideological phenomenon and constitutes,
therefore, a complex and salient form of social
influence during early infancy.
The thesis concludes with a Spinozan argument that,
notwithstanding their innate sensitivity to other
persons, the development of infants as persons should
be viewed as a more all- embracing process than is
usually connoted by the phrase 'social development';
namely, as just one expression of the essential process
by which humans increase their power of self - determination.