Joint attention involves two (or more) subjects attending to an event or object together, where the attention of each participant is to some degree dependent on the attention of the other. It is sometimes said that joint attention is ‘wholly overt’ or ‘out in the open’ between the participants, where this means that they are both fully aware that they are together attending to the event or object (although so-called 'lean' accounts of joint attention, deny that this is a necessary condition for joint attention). A canonical example of joint attention would be where two people are sitting opposite each other, discussing and observing an object that lies between them. The phenomena can be contrasted with shared attention where two people are each attending to an object, but are doing so separately, such that the attention of each person is of no relevance to the other, and does not figure in their experience.
Philosophical discussions of joint attention have tended to focus on two questions: firstly, how the apparent epistemic and phenomenological openness of joint attention can be explained without recourse to a complex series of overlapping and embedded mental states. Secondly, how joint attention can be understood as providing a normative and evidential basis for communication and joint action. Within cognitive science, joint attention has been discussed with relation to the nature of autism, the Theory of Mind debate, the development of communicative intentions and the development of word-learning in infants.
There are three edited volumes that contain many of the key texts in this area - Moore & Dunham 1995 Eilan et al 2005 and Seemann 2012. The first is predominantly written by psychologists, while the latter two include a mix of contributions by philosophers, neuroscientists and psychologists. Early discussions in philosophy relating to the topic of joint attention can be found in Husserl 1964, Schutz 1970,Schiffer 1972 and Davidson 1992. Early discussions in the developmental psychology literature can be found in Scaife and Bruner 1975 and Trevarthen 1979.
- Attention and Consciousness (209)
- Attention and Consciousness in Psychology (455)
- Change/Inattentional Blindness (305)
- The Nature of Attention (77)
- Attention, Misc (99)
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