Becoming a social agent: Developmental foundations of an embodied social psychology



In this paper, we argue that young infants serve as ideal models for disentangling the relative contributions of embodied and symbolic processes to mature social cognition and behavior. Based on evidence suggesting that infants possess a nascent ability to understand others' actions, and to interact and communicate with others in meaningful ways, we argue that the embodiment processes underlying these skills in infancy may also account for a significant portion of adults' social understanding and behavior. Based on evidence suggesting both continuity and change in social understanding and behavior as children encounter a formal language system, and evidence suggesting that manipulating the mode of processing influences social understanding, we argue that embodied and symbolic modes of understanding are potentially dissociable and can yield different construals of the same social behavior. Finally, we suggest that the study of infancy can elucidate outstanding issues in the adult social psychology, and close by providing one illustration of the way in which it might do so. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.