The emergence of eye contact as an intersubjective signal in an infant gorilla: implications for models of early social cognition
Keywords:Intentional communication, eye contact, joint attention, intersubjectivity, tool use, gorillas
This paper argues against both lean and rich interpretations of early social cognition in infants and apes using as an illustration the results of a longitudinal study comparing the emergence of joint attention and tool use patterns in an infant gorilla. In contrast with tool use (where well-formed manipulations resulted in near perfect rates of reward obtention) the emergence of well-formed acts of communication with eye contact not only had no effect upon the rewards obtained, but increased the proportion of 'explicit denials' of requests. It is argued that this suggests eye contact is learned and used as an intersubjective signal of communicative intentionality and not through simple associative mechanisms of reward contingency detection. However, it is also argued that rich interpretations of early social cognition are not needed to explain the development of communicative and intersubjective intentions.