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Re: [xmca] Polls are closed: Manfred Holodynsk's article is choice

The article by Joscha Kärtner et al deals with the issue of mirroring of emotional expression by care-givers at somewhat greater length and concludes:

In this article we have argued that socio-emotional development can only be understood in the context of social practice and underlying ethnotheories of caregivers that give significance to infants’ emotional expressions. In doing so, we have focused on a specific aspect of early socio-emotional development, namely the emergence of social smiling during infancy. Synthesizing empirical findings from autonomous and relational, especially rural Nso, cultural milieus, we showed how dominant ethnotheories and associated behavioral routines concerning emotional development vary systematically across cultural milieus and influence infants’ emotional expressivity and experience. Concerning the development of social smiling, future studies should focus on assessing ethnotheories concerning infant smiling and adequate reactions more explicitly (instead of inferring ethnotheories from behavioral routines or from what was not said if compared to other cultural milieus). Furthermore, future studies should also consider other relevant caregivers, especially sibling caretakers, and their function for emotional development (e.g., Lamm, 2008). Finally, future studies should take a closer look at the dynamics of mother-infant interaction around positive emotions and how these dynamics develop longitudinally across the first year of life.

From a sociocultural perspective, ethnotheories and social practices around affect mirroring and infant smiling are an interesting phenomenon because they have important implications for the emergence and further development of infants’ self-awareness. Mirroring infant smiles leads to an increasing awareness of subjective emotional states in infants. Thus, infants become subjectively aware of their inner psychological states in the sense of feelings organized by increasingly distinctive and conventionalized expression signs that are experiences as distinctive emotion states (Gergely & Watson, 1999; Holodynski & Friedlmeier, 2006, 2012).

Thus, culture-specific differences in affect mirroring and infant smiling lay the ground for differences in infants’ self-awareness, which has implications for the further development of the self-concept in different cultural milieus. For instance, Kärtner and colleagues (2012) have shown that, during the second year, cultural contexts differ greatly regarding the age at which toddlers develop mirror self-recognition. More specifically, the ability to identify one’s mirror image develops earlier in urban middle-class contexts that emphasize the development of autonomy as compared to relational cultural milieus. The authors of this study argue that mirror self-recognition reflects a specific representation, namely the representation of the self as an autonomous intentional agent that is based on subjective self-awareness. Thus, not only do toddlers need to possess the ability for secondary representation but they also need a specific object or state to represent, in this case their own mental states (intentional and emotional). In this sense, it is not necessarily toddlers’ general representational capacity that differs across cultures but toddlers’ awareness of themselves, especially self-awareness of their internal states.

This specific type of self-awareness seems to be the result of social interaction, which enables toddlers to conceive of themselves as selves in the minds of others (Rochat & Zahavi, 2011). What seems to be critical in this regard is the degree to which caregivers direct their infants’ attention to their own internal states. During the first months of life, this is primarily realized through caregivers’ affect mirroring, which sensitizes toddlers to their intentional and emotional self-states, which they consequently become increasingly aware of.

Thus, culture-specific ethnotheories and social practices regarding infant smiling have substantial developmental consequences that go beyond culture-specific developmental trajectories of infant smiling in that they may constitute and lay the ground for infants’ self-awareness and conception of the self.

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