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Best friends: children use mutual gaze to identify friendships in others

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-425
JournalDevelopmental Science
Volume15
Issue number3
DOIs
DatePublished - 2012

Abstract

This study examined children’s ability to use mutual eye gaze as a cue to friendships in others. In Experiment 1, following a discussion about friendship, 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds were shown animations in which three cartoon children looked at one another, and were told that one target character had a best friend. Although all age groups accurately detected the mutual gaze between the target and another character, only 5- and 6-year-olds used this cue to infer friendship. Experiment 2 replicated the effect with 5- and 6-year-olds when the target character was not explicitly identified. Finally, in Experiment 3, where the attribution of friendship could only be based on synchronized mutual gaze, 6-year-olds made this attribution, while 4- and 5-year-olds did not. Children occasionally referred to mutual eye gaze when asked to justify their responses in Experiments 2 and 3, but it was only by the age of 6 that reference to these cues correlated with the use of mutual gaze in judgements of affiliation. Although younger children detected mutual gaze, it was not until 6 years of age that children reliably detected and justified mutual gaze as a cue to
friendship.

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