The developmental origins of joint attention in infancy

  • Gideon Julian Salter

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Despite widespread recognition of the importance of joint attention, there are still disagreements regarding its definition and development. There are questions over when and how joint attention emerges, what exactly makes it joint, and its relation to communication. These developmental and definitional questions are closely linked, and thus to understand joint attention we must understand the very beginnings of its development and its relation to communication. This thesis aimed to further our understanding of joint attention by investigating infants’ development in the key period leading up to 9 months.

The thesis reports a comprehensive longitudinal study of infants aged 6 to 10 months (with additional data collected remotely at 11 and 12 months), using experimental, observational, interview and questionnaire methods. First, it investigated the very beginnings of infants’ capacity to initiate joint attention, finding that this ability emerges for some infants by 6 months. Next, it examined the very beginnings of infants’ gestural communication, identifying developmental processes that precede the emergence of some of infants’ earliest conventional communicative gestures. It also examined a range of other social (e.g. imitation), cognitive (e.g. means-ends understanding) and motor skills (e.g. self-locomotion) in order to identify relations between key social and non-social abilities emerging in this period. These abilities typically emerged gradually, starting before 9 months, with limited relations found amongst them. Finally, the study examined the relations between maternal and researcher assessments of communication and motor skills, identifying ways to increase consistency between these assessments.
Overall, the thesis shines new light on the very beginnings of joint attention and communication in infancy. It demonstrates that infants’ capacity to engage in joint attention emerges for some infants by 6 months of age, and highlights the importance of investigating the processes that lead to the emergence of joint attention and communicative abilities.
Date of Award29 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorMalinda Carpenter (Supervisor)


  • Joint attention
  • Communication
  • Infancy
  • Longitudinal research

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 13 September 2024

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