The Evolution of Joint Attention: A Review and Critique

  • Timothy P. RacineEmail author
  • Tyler J. Wereha
  • Olga Vasileva
  • Donna Tafreshi
  • Joseph J. Thompson
Part of the Interdisciplinary Evolution Research book series (IDER, volume 1)


Joint attention can be defined as the ability to intentionally coordinate an attentional focus on some object or state of affairs with another. This capacity is believed by most theorists to be logically, developmentally, and evolutionarily prior to language and further forms of social cognition tied up with human social communication. However, although there has been a good deal of empirical and theoretical work on joint attention, there has been less attention paid to the evolution of joint attention in its own right. There has also been sustained debate concerning whether other primates can be said to engage in joint attention, which in turn conditions the evolutionary theories that are offered. In this chapter, we define and describe joint attention, discuss the skills it involves, and the extent to which we share these with other animals. Next, we review work that has been done on the evolution of joint attention and related capacities and classify it as a function of its mode of explanation. We then discuss the aforementioned forms of evolutionary explanation in the light of recent evolutionary theories and findings that question adaptationist thinking, and consider the potential relevance of non-adaptationist thinking for theoretical work on the evolution of joint attention.


Joint attention Aadaptationist stance Evolutionary psychology Core knowledge Shared intentionality Non-human primates 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy P. Racine
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tyler J. Wereha
    • 1
  • Olga Vasileva
    • 1
  • Donna Tafreshi
    • 1
  • Joseph J. Thompson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologySimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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