attention and Intention

From: Bill Barowy (
Date: Tue Jan 18 2005 - 17:07:46 PST

I have had the advantage of reading the whole article on infant selective
social referencing, so I'd like to clear some misunderstanding. The
conflation of attention and intention is not on the part of the authors. It
is not the basis of their theory.

Rather, the authors suggest it is in the developmental progression of the way
that an infant seeks to disambiguate a novel situation. The child, upon
being surprised, may look to an adult. The interesting results are this: At
seven months, infants look to an adult with the same frequency, regardless of
where the adult is looking. The frequency with which ten month old children
look to the adults, however, does depend upon where the adult is looking.
The authors posit that this is due to the child's rudimentary understanding
of intention -- the child's gaze depends upon the gaze of his/her social
partner, i.e. upon the attention of the social partner. It's as if the child
inquires "What are you looking at?" and in this perspective it is not such a
leap to think that the child is, in some very simple way, seeking to see what
the adult has in mind, i.e. what are the intentions of the adult.

But here is something perhaps a bit more provocative, a little more
trouble-making. Is it so far fetched to think that this attribution of
intention by selective attention does not persist in adults? If, at a
cocktail party, a colleague who has been conversing with another nearby turns
to you and asks "What do you think?" do you not assume that the question was
directed to you, that the query was intended for you? What do you think?


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