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Joint attention is interactionally-achieved when one person, animal or agent alerts another to a stimulus by means of eye-gazing, finger-pointing or other verbal or non-verbal indication.

For example, one person may gaze at another person, and then point to an object, and then return their gaze back to the other person. In this case, the pointing person is "initiating joint attention" by trying to get the other to look at the object. The person who looks to the referenced object is "responding to joint attention." Joint attention is referred to as a triadic skill, meaning that it involves two people and an object or event outside of the duo.

Human infants display capacity for both initiating and responding to joint attention cues; recently it was discovered that infants as young as three months clearly discriminate between triadic and non triadic contexts.[1] Great apes (orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobo) also show some understanding of joint attention.[2]

There is a debate in contemporary psychology about the psychological significance of joint attention: the majority of theorists believe that although both humans and the great apes use it as a means to an end, humans alone also use it for purely altruistic communicative purposes,[3] whereas a vocal minority maintain that joint attention is always a means to an end (i.e., that "pure communication" in the infancy period is a myth), and therefore joint attention by apes and humans reflects shared psychological processes.[4]

Several studies have shown that problems with joint attention are associated with developmental processes that are important in the etiology of autism.[5][6] One recent study has shown that parental psychopathology can be associated with disruption of joint attention when the parent-child relationship is stressed. [7]

See alsoEdit


  1. Striano, T., & Stahl, D. (2005). Sensitivity to triadic attention in early infancy. Developmental Science, 8(4), 333-343.
  2. Leavens, David A., Hopkins, William D., & Bard, K. A. The heterochronic origins of explicit reference. In J. Zlatev, T. Racine, C. Sinha, & E. Itkonen (Eds.), The shared mind: Perspectives on intersubjectivity (pp. 187-214. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2008.
  3. Tomasello, Michael: Constructing a language. Harvard University press, Cambridge, MA., 2003
  4. Leavens, David A., & Racine, Timothy P. Joint attention in apes and humans: Are humans unique? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 16, 240-267, 2009.
  5. Peter Mundy, Lisa Sullivan, Ann M Mastergeorge, A parallel and distributed-processing model of joint attention, social cognition and autism. Autism research Volume: 2, Issue: 1, Pages: 2-21, 2009
  6. Bhat AN, Galloway JC, Landa RJ. Social and non-social visual attention patterns and associative learning in infants at risk for autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry Volume: 51, Issue: 9, Pages: 989-997, 2010
  7. Schechter, DS, Willheim E, Hinojosa C, Scholfield-Kleinman, K, Turner JB, McCaw J, Zeanah CH, Myers MM : Subjective and objective measures of parent-child relationship dysfunction, child separation distress, and joint attention. Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 73(2), 130-144. Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes 2010;73(2): 130-144.
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