Sharing attention, sharing affordances: From dyadic interaction to collective information

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Access and Mediation: Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Attention


Cognitivist approaches to joint attention conceptualize it as a form of triangular interaction, between two agents and one object. When describing the interpersonal dimension of this triangle they frame it as a form of simulation, theorizing or both, involving representations of the other agent's mental states - representation of representations - and inferences. In this paper, we advocate a different framework for understanding shared attention, the ecological psychology framework that understands attention through the notion of 'affordance'. Affordances are relational and not representational. They are direct relationships between agents and their environments. While some authors have pointed to the notion of 'social affordance' (Heft 2007, 2017; Rietveld and Kiverstein 2014; Moreira de Carvalho 2020) for understanding phenomena related to shared attention, the notion remains general and imprecise. The problem is that the notion is used indistinctively to refer to a number of different phenomena that involve social attention in very different ways. To address this issue, we offer an initial classification of different kinds of social affordances, from dyadic relations between agents, and different forms of triangular interactions, reciprocal and non-reciprocal, that provide direct and indirect information about common environments to one or both agents, all the way to collective affordances that lie at the basis of socio-cultural forms of life. We argue that this account is better placed than the standard cognitivist alternative to account for both shared attention and joint action in a non-cognitively demanding way. In addition, we show how these forms of shared activity are, in turn, fundamental for the acquisition of the sociocultural norms that come to permeate human perception.

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