Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Upton I 61
Interaction/parent-child/language learning/Bruner/Upton:
Def joint-action formats a term coined by Jerome Brimer to refer to the joint attention episodes that characterise parent—child interactions. According to Bruner, these episodes are essen
tial for learning new skills, including language.
Joint attention and sharing interactions are key features of early relationships and, according to Bruner (1985)(1), these play a key role in the development of language. To begin with, such interactions might only involve the carer and child, for example playing a game of Peek-a-boo.
In joint-action formats the mother creates simple, structured activities with objects such as toys so as to teach her infant what the objects are for and how to use them – for example, building blocks into a tower, or using a spoon for feeding.
Upton I 62
These shared sequences are also talked about by the mother, which encourages the infant to acquire language (Bruner, 1975(2), 1985(1), 1993(3)). The joint-action formats provide a mapping activity during which the child learns to link words and phrases with the correct objects and events. Pointing has an important role to play in ensuring joint attention during joint-action formats – for example, when reading picture books with their carers, infants show joint attention to objects shown in the book through pointing, which is usually accompanied by labelling of the object.
Adults’ role: the adult response to pointing by an infant is usually to label the object pointed at (Hannan, 1992)(4).
Blindness: Research has also shown that blind children are able to label significantly fewer objects than sighted infants (Norgate, 1997)(5), which lends further support to the importance of pointing for acquiring object names.
Spcial context/Bruner: Bruner argues that, in this way, the mother (or other carer) provides a social context in which the meaning of language can be learned. This idea that the social context supports language acquisition is supported by evidence that the first words to be understood by an infant are typically the child’s own name, the names of other family members and the names of familiar objects such as clock, drink and teddy (Harris et al., 1995a)(6).



1. Bruner, J.S. (1985) Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
2. Bruner, J.S. (1975) The ontogenesis of speech acts.Journal of Child Language, 2: 1—19.
3. Bruner, J.S. (1993) Explaining and interpreting: two ways of using mind, in Harman, G (ed.) Conceptions of the Human Mind: Essays in honor of George A Miller. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
4. Hannan, T.E. (1992) An examination of spontaneous pointing in 20- to 50-month-old chil
then. Perceptual andMotor Skills, 74: 65 1—8.
5. Norgate, S.H. (1997) Research methods for studying the language of blind children, in Horn
berger, N.H. and Corson, D (eds) The Encyclopedia of Languczge and Education, Vol. 8:Research
methods in language and education. The Netherlands: Kiuwer Academic Publishers.
6. Harris, M., Barlow-Brown, F. and Chasin, J. (1995a) The emergence of referential understanding: pointing and the comprehension of object names. First Language, 15: 19–34.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Bruner, Jerome
Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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