What is it about?

Communication is commonly viewed as connecting people through conscious symbolic processes. Infants have an immature communication toolbox, raising the question of how they form a sense of connectedness. In this article, we propose a framework for infants' communication, emphasizing the subtle unconscious behaviors and autonomic contingent signals that convey drives, emotions, and a sense of connection, facilitating the formation of primal social bonds. Our developmental model emphasizes the importance of diverse modes of communication and their interplay in social interactions during infancy. The framework leverages three levels of communication—autonomic, behavioral, and symbolic—and their different maturational pathways. Initially, infants' social communication relies on autonomic responses and a dynamic behavioral repertoire, which evolve during the first year of life, supporting the emergence of symbolic communication. This extended communication framework highlights infants' role as proactive communicating agents and allows for tracing communicative developmental cascades back to their origins.

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Why is it important?

This extended framework accounts for a broad scope of social interaction, hosting both the conscious information bits of what can be seen or sensed and the deeply rooted ones that activate strong footprints in humans' evolving social communication and attachment networks. We call for more extensive research addressing involuntary behaviors and autonomic responses not only as an outcome but as conveying, at times, a communicative value, mainly when symbolic output has not yet evolved and when it is no longer fully accessible due to degenerative processes (e.g., those related to aging, illness, or sensory disorders). This work can enrich theory-based research on the effects of dyadic interaction and on detecting risk for atypical development.

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This page is a summary of: An integrative model of parent‐infant communication development, Child Development Perspectives, February 2024, Wiley,
DOI: 10.1111/cdep.12507.
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