Early Joint Attention and its Influence on Socio-Emotional Development and Language Skills



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Early experiences of joint attention (JA) which infants and their social partner attend to regions of interest have been shown to predict vocabulary (e.g., Salo, 2018) and socio-emotional (SE) development (e.g., Aitken et al., 2020). These studies use small time intervals of 1-2 years between visits, and JA abilities are measured through parental reports or observed play, which lack objective measurement. This has led to a lack of knowledge about how socially-coordinated gaze behaviors (JA) during toddlerhood (1-2 years) predicts later vocabulary and SE development during preschool (4-5 years), and the documented relationships rely on subjective measures of JA. To characterize the role of IJA and RJA experiences in a social context on later vocabulary/SE development, we asked 14 parent-child dyads to participate in an object play session during their first visit (T1) wearing head-mounted eye trackers in which we measured the frequency and duration of IJA and RJA from the dyad's egocentric perspectives. During their second visit (T2), parents completed the Ages & Stages Questionnaire: Socio-Emotional (ASQ:SE-2; Squires et al., 2015) and children completed the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-4; Dunn & Dunn, 2007) and the Expressive Vocabulary Test (EVT-2; Williams, 2007). The results showed a significant relation between IJA duration and PPVT-4 standard scores (p = .039) and between RJA duration and ASQ:SE-2 social-emotional scores (p = .013). The results are predictive of children's later vocabulary and social-emotional development, which are critical to school readiness skills (Martoccio et al., 2014).