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The non-verbal narrative in adult-infant engagements

Delafield-Butt, Jonathan and Harder, Susanne and Væver, Mette and Trevarthen, Colwyn (2012) The non-verbal narrative in adult-infant engagements. In: BPS 2012 Developmental Section Annual Conference 2012, 2012-09-05 - 2012-09-07.

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Abstract

Narrative is regarded as fundamental to human meaning-making with a history of study that dates back to the ancient Greeks. Stories between adult individuals made with expressions of voice and gesture altogether produce regular narrative patterns of engagement characterised by a four-part structure that (i) opens the engagement, (ii) builds through reciprocated cycles of expression with cross-modal fluency and expressive timing before, (iii) reaching a climax of intensity, and (iv) receding to conclusion and quiescence again. This basic narrative structure, found across adult dialogue and story-telling in music, film, dance and drama, is also present in early mother-infant proto-conversational engagements. We present an analysis of the movements and vocalisations recorded from ten mother-infant pairs in face-to-face engagements, at four and seven months of age. We identify narrative events, their composition, timing, and frequency. We discuss their putative importance in generating affective attunement and effective co-regulation within the dyad, giving periods of socioemotional learning. The presence of co-created narrative structures in early infant social development suggests this pattern of engagement, with its characteristic four-part structure, is a foundational process that gives shared meaning to human minds.