Opportunities for Interaction

Human Nature 32 (1):208-238 (2021)
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Abstract

We examine the opportunities children have for interacting with others and the extent to which they are the focus of others’ visual attention in five societies where extended family communities are the norm. We compiled six video-recorded datasets collected by a team of anthropologists and psychologists conducting long-term research in each society. The six datasets include video observations of children among the Yasawas, Tanna, Tsimane, Huatasani, and Aka. Each dataset consists of a series of videos of children ranging in age from 2 months to 12 years in their everyday contexts. We coded 998 videos and identified with whom children had opportunities to interact as well as the number of individuals and the proportion of observed time that children spent with these individuals. We also examined the proportion of time children received direct visual gaze. Our results indicate that children less than 5 years old spend the majority of their observed time in the presence of one female adult. This is the case across the five societies. In the three societies from which we have older children, we find a clear shift around 5 years of age, with children spending the majority of their time with other children. We also coded the presence or absence of a primary caregiver and found that caregivers remained within 2 ft of target children until 7 years of age. When they were in the company of a primary caregiver, children older than seven spent the majority of their time more than 2 ft from the caregiver. We found a consistent trend across societies with decreasing focal attention on the child with increasing child age. These findings show remarkable consistency across these societies in children’s interaction opportunities and that a developmental approach is needed to fully understand human development because the social context is dynamic across the lifespan. These data can serve as a springboard for future research examining social development in everyday contexts.

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