The emotional and embodied nature of human understanding : sharing narratives of meaning

Delafield-Butt, Jonathan; Trevarthen, Colwyn and Delafield-Butt, Jonathan and Dunlop, Aline-Wendy, eds. (2018) The emotional and embodied nature of human understanding : sharing narratives of meaning. In: The Child's Curriculum. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 59-84. ISBN 9780198747109

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This chapter explores the emotional and embodied nature of children’s learning to discover biological principles of social awareness, affective contact, and shared sense-making useful for school learning. The origins of learning are evident in purposeful movements of the body before birth. Simple self-generated actions learn to anticipate their sensory effects. In their action they generate a small ‘story’ that progresses through time, giving meaningful satisfaction on their successful completion. During child development, simple actions become organised into complex projects requiring greater appreciation of their consequences, expanding in capacity and reach. They are mediated first by brainstem conscious control made with vital feelings, which builds the foundations for a more abstract, cortically mediated cognitive intelligence in later life. By tracing development of meaning-making from simple projects of the infant to complex shared projects in early childhood, we can better appreciate the embodied narrative form of human understanding in healthy affective contact, how it may be disrupted in children with clinical disorders or educational difficulties, and how it responds in joyful projects to teachers’ support for learning.