Our social interactions begin at an early age

summary: Early social interactions allow children to quickly learn how to coordinate with each other’s behavior.

Source: NCCR

What is it like to build a pyramid, go to the moon, paddle a two-person canoe, or dance a waltz? All of these actions result in a common goal between multiple partners and lead to a sense of mutual obligation, known as “joint commitment”. This ability to cooperate is universal in humans and in some species of animals, such as great apes.

However, according to the study’s authors, humans have a unique propensity and strong desire for social interaction that may have been one of the components of language’s emergence.

How is our social interaction different from that of other species? And why?

To answer these questions, an international team analyzed the interactions of 31 children between the ages of 2 and 4 in four preschools (10 hours per child) in the United States.

“There has been only a few quantitative analysis of the spontaneous social interactions of 2 and 4 year olds when interacting with peers, although this is a critical age for the development of children’s social-cognitive abilities. And those that do exist are either Extensive video recordings after separate babies for several days are not based on or simply do not allow for an easy comparison with the social interactions of great apes”, says Federico Rossano, the study’s first author and assistant professor at the university. of California, San Diego.

They then compared their results to similar interactions in adults and great apes.

multiplication of social partners
The researchers analyzed environmental factors (number of participants, types of activities, etc.) around the children.

They found that children had more frequent (on average 13 different social interactions per hour) and less (28 seconds on average) social interactions with their peers than great apes in comparable studies.

Study co-author and Professor Adrian Bangerter at the University of Neuchâtel explains why: “By being exposed to multiple partners, children learn early about the need to coordinate with each other’s behaviour.” The numbers support this accelerated learning: 4-year-olds already participate in cooperative social interactions more often than 2-year-olds and fight with children under 2.

“Learning to coordinate with others and how to communicate is a way to reduce conflict, as well as learning to engage in joint activities,” says Rossano.

Social interactions are usually marked by an entry and an exit phase (when someone initiates a conversation with eye contact and “hello” and then signals that it is “okay, okay” or “goodbye”). ending by repeating). These signals are also present in 90% of social engagement in bonobos and 69% in chimpanzees.

It appears that young children use these cues only 66–69% of the time, less frequently than bonobos and adults.

“On the one hand it may be due to the appreciation that they will interact with the same children over and over again throughout the day, such as two passengers sitting next to each other on a plane having a quick conversation throughout the flight without using the salutation every time. Started and stopped. Talking.

“On the other hand, this may reflect the fact that not every social interaction is based on a joint commitment to each other, i.e. sometimes young children may bulldoze their way and assume that other children have to coordinate. instead of adapting to them”, explains Rossano.

Confirmation of these behaviors will require more empirical research, although this study is the first step in understanding the role of joint commitment to human social interaction and how it affects language development.

Swiss Children’s Cooperation
A similar study is currently conducted within the framework of the NCCR Evolving Languages, a Swiss research center that aims to uncover the biological foundations of language, its evolutionary past and the challenges posed by new technologies.

It depicts two young girls playing
However, according to the study’s authors, humans have a unique propensity and strong desire for social interaction that may have been one of the components of language’s emergence. Image is in public domain

A team, including co-authors from the University of Neuchâtel, is working with after-school care facilities at Neuchâtel and aims to understand the development of joint action in children by understanding how they use so-called back-channel words (uh-huh, ok) change over time as they play the LEGO® cooperative game.

Adrian Bangerter explains why it’s important to analyze those words: “We use “little” words like okay, uh-huh, yes, or right all the time to synchronize our behavior with our partners. Then too little is known about how young children use them.”

Social interactions facilitated the development of language
The paper was published in the context of a special issue that focuses on the “interaction engine” hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that social abilities and motivations in humans were determining factors in the development of human language, whose origins are unknown.

see all

It shows the picture of the fetus in the womb

In a series of 14 papers edited by Raffaella Hessen of Durham University and Marlene Frolich of the University of Tübingen, researchers examine the socio-cognitive abilities that paved the way for the emergence of language by proposing a multidimensional and comparative approach. NCCR Evolving Languages ​​is part of this special issue, with seven researchers co-authoring 4 papers.

About this social neuroscience research news

Author: Emily Wyss
Source: NCCR
contact: Emily Vice – NCCR
image: Image is in public domain

Basic Research: open access.
,How 2- and 4-year-olds coordinate social interaction with peers“By Federico Rossano et al. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Biological Sciences


How 2- and 4-year-olds coordinate social interaction with peers

The Interaction Engine Hypothesis holds that humans have a unique capacity and motivation for social interaction. A turning point in the ontogeny of the interaction engine may occur around 2–4 years of age, but observational studies of children in natural contexts are limited. These data also appear to be important for comparison with non-human primates.

Here, we report on focal observations on 31 children aged 2- and 4-years in four preschools (10 h per child). Children interact with a wide range of partners, at times, but with one or two close friends.

Four-year-olds engage in cooperative social interactions more often than 2-year-olds and fight with children under the age of 2. Talking and playing with objects are the most common social interaction types in both age groups.

Babies engage in social interactions with peers frequently (average 13 separate social interactions per hour) and brief (28 seconds on average) and less time than great apes in comparative studies. Their social interaction consists of entry and exit phases about two-thirds of the time, less frequent than in great apes.

The results support the interaction engine hypothesis, as young children manifest a remarkable motivation and capacity for fast-paced interactions with multiple partners.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.