Infant joint attention, neural networks and social cognition

Peter Clive Mundy, William Jarrold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Neural network models of attention can provide a unifying approach to the study of human cognitive and emotional development (Posner & Rothbart, 2007). In this paper we argue that a neural network approach to the infant development of joint attention can inform our understanding of the nature of human social learning, symbolic thought process and social cognition. At its most basic, joint attention involves the capacity to coordinate one's own visual attention with that of another person. We propose that joint attention development involves increments in the capacity to engage in simultaneous or parallel processing of information about one's own attention and the attention of other people. Infant practice with joint attention is both a consequence and an organizer of the development of a distributed and integrated brain network involving frontal and parietal cortical systems. This executive distributed network first serves to regulate the capacity of infants to respond to and direct the overt behavior of other people in order to share experience with others through the social coordination of visual attention. In this paper we describe this parallel and distributed neural network model of joint attention development and discuss two hypotheses that stem from this model. One is that activation of this distributed network during coordinated attention enhances the depth of information processing and encoding beginning in the first year of life. We also propose that with development, joint attention becomes internalized as the capacity to socially coordinate mental attention to internal representations. As this occurs the executive joint attention network makes vital contributions to the development of human symbolic thinking and social cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)985-997
Number of pages13
JournalNeural Networks
Issue number8-9
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Infant development
  • Joint attention
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Parallel and distributed cognition
  • Social cognition
  • Social learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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