Our social interactions begin at an early age – Neuroscience News

Summary: Early social interactions allow children to quickly learn how to coordinate each other’s behaviour.

source: NCCR

What do building the pyramids, going to the moon, kayaking, or waltzing have in common? All of these actions are the result of a common goal among multiple partners and result in a mutual sense of obligation, known as ‘common commitment’. This ability to cooperate is universal in humans and certain species of animals, such as great apes.

However, humans seem to have a unique predisposition and strong desire for social interaction that may be a component of language emergence, according to the study authors.

How are our social interactions different from other species? And why?

To answer these questions, an international team analyzed the interactions of 31 children aged 2 to 4 years in four US kindergartens (10 hours per child).

“There have been only a few quantitative analyzes of the spontaneous social interactions of 2- to 4-year-olds while interacting with peers, although it is a critical age for the development of children’s social-cognitive abilities. Federico Rossano, first author of the study and assistant professor at the university adds California, San Diego.

Then they compared their results with similar interactions in adults and great apes

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

They found that children had more frequent (average of 13 distinct social interactions per hour) and shorter (average 28 seconds) social interactions with their peers than great apes in similar studies.

Adrian Bangerter, co-author of the study and professor at the University of Neuchâtel explains why: “By exposure to multiple partners, children quickly learn about the need to coordinate each other’s behaviour.” The numbers support this rapid learning: 4- Two-year-olds actually engage in more cooperative social interactions than two-year-olds and fight less than two-year-olds.

“Learning how to coordinate with others and how to communicate in order to participate in joint activities goes hand in hand with learning how to reduce conflict,” Rossano adds.

Social interactions are usually marked by the entry and exit phase (when one begins a conversation with eye contact and ‘hello’ and then indicates that it ends with a repeat of ‘okay, good’ or ‘goodbye’). These cues are also present in 90% of social interactions in bonobos and 69% in chimpanzees.

Young children seem to use these cues only 66-69% of the time, a lower rate than bonobos and adults.

On the one hand, this may be due to the appreciation that they will interact again with the same children throughout the day, such as two passengers sitting next to each other on a plane who start and stop quick conversations throughout the flight without using greetings each time they resume speaking.

“On the other hand, it may reflect the fact that not every social interaction depends on a shared commitment to one another, i.e. sometimes young children may be working their way around with bulldozers and assuming that other children will just adapt to them instead of coordinating,” Rossano explains.

More empirical research will be needed to confirm these behaviors, but this study is a first step in understanding the role of co-commitment to human social interaction and how it affected language development.

Cooperation in the field of Swiss children
A similar study is currently being conducted under The NCCR Evolution Language, a Swiss research center that aims to unravel the biological foundations of language, its evolutionary past, and the challenges posed by new technologies.

This shows two little girls playing
However, humans seem to have a unique predisposition and strong desire for social interaction that may be a component of language emergence, according to the study authors. The image is in the public domain

A team that includes co-authors from the University of Neuchâtel works with after-school care facilities in Neuchâtel and aims to understand the development of co-working in children by observing how they use so-called back-channel words (Oh alright) changes over time when they play a LEGO® co-op.

Adrian Bangerter explains why it is important to analyze these terms: “We use ‘small’ words like ok, ah, yes, or appropriate all the time to synchronize our behavior with our partners. However, little is known about how young children acquire their use.”

Social interactions facilitated language development
The paper was published in the context of a special issue focusing on the “interaction engine” hypothesis. This hypothesis posits that humans’ social abilities and motivations were critical factors in the evolution of human language, the origins of which remain unknown.

see also

This shows a drawing of a fetus in the womb

In a series of 14 papers edited by Raphaela Heesen of the University of Durham and Marlen Fröhlich of the University of Tübingen, researchers investigate the social cognitive abilities that paved the way for the emergence of language by proposing an interdisciplinary and comparative approach. Advanced Language NCCR is part of this special issue where seven of its researchers have co-authored 4 papers.

About this research in Social Neuroscience News

author: Emily Wes
source: NCCR
Contact: Emily Weiss – NCCR
picture: The image is in the public domain

original search: open access.
“How 2- and 4-year-olds coordinate social interactions with their peers” by Federico Rossano et al. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in Biological Sciences


Summary

How 2- and 4-year-olds coordinate social interactions with their peers

The interaction drive hypothesis posits that humans have a unique ability and drive for social interaction. A critical juncture in the genesis of reaction drive could be around 2-4 years of age, but observational studies of children in natural contexts are limited. These data also seem crucial for comparison with non-human primates.

Here, we report on pivotal observations on 31 children aged 2–4 years in four kindergartens (10 h per child). Children interact with a wide range of partners, many of them rarely, but with one or two close friends.

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

Children engage in social interactions with their peers more frequently (average 13 distinct social interactions per hour) and for a short time (average 28 seconds) and shorter than the interactions of great apes in similar studies. Their social interactions are characterized by entry and exit phases about two-thirds of the time, less frequently than the great apes.

The results support the interaction drive hypothesis, with young children showing marked motivation and ability to have fast-paced interactions with multiple partners.

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