Parent-offspring conflict and the development of social understanding

In Peter Carruthers, Stephen Laurence & Stephen P. Stich (eds.), The Innate Mind: Structure and Contents. New York, US: Oxford University Press USA. pp. 239--253 (2005)
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Abstract

This chapter begins with a brief review of the theory of parent-offspring conflict and considers the role of this conflict in the cognitive development of human infants. It then discusses the evolution of theory of mind — which is taken to have its origins in human evolution — and considers how this human cognitive specialization might have interacted with existing parent-offspring dynamics. How the epigenetic systems of infants might have responded is shown by elaborating upon existing cognitive and behavioural systems, or by canalizing later developing ones earlier into development, in order to recruit higher degrees of parental investment. The merits of this framework is assessed in the context of the development of behaviours considered by some researchers to be indicative of a certain degree of social understanding, namely, gaze-following, pointing, social smiling, and neonatal imitation. The chapter concludes by showing how this proposal makes several longstanding theoretical and methodological difficulties for the field of cognitive development even more vexing.

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