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Child-Animal Interaction: Nonverbal Dimensions

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Examples of child-animal interactions from a year-long ethnographic study of preschoolers are examined in terms of their basic nonverbal processes and features. The contingency of interactions, the nonhuman animal's body, its patterns of arousal, and the history of child-animal interactions played important roles in determining the course of interactions. Also, the children flexibly accommodated their interactive capacities to the differences in these features which the animals presented. Corresponding to these observable features of interaction, we argue that children respond to variations in animals' agency, coherence, affectivity, and continuity. Recent research shows infants also respond to these dimensions in interactants. The implications are that for the young child, animals are social others that present intrinsically engaging degrees of discrepancy from human social others; and that the child's sense of self takes shape in the available interspecies community. Interacting with animals may be more primary than human-centered factors (such as cultural meanings, anthropomorphism, social facilitation, or psychodynamic processes) in the child's experience and developing understanding of self and animal other. Implications for the theories of social development are discussed.



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