Cover: The Beginnings of Social Understanding, from Harvard University PressCover: The Beginnings of Social Understanding in E-DITION

The Beginnings of Social Understanding

Available from De Gruyter »

Product Details


$65.00 • £54.95 • €60.00

ISBN 9780674330610

Publication Date: 11/14/1988

212 pages


Not for sale in UK, British Commonwealth & Europe (except Canada)

Related Subjects

Harvard University Press has partnered with De Gruyter to make available for sale worldwide virtually all in-copyright HUP books that had become unavailable since their original publication. The 2,800 titles in the “e-ditions” program can be purchased individually as PDF eBooks or as hardcover reprint (“print-on-demand”) editions via the “Available from De Gruyter” link above. They are also available to institutions in ten separate subject-area packages that reflect the entire spectrum of the Press’s catalog. More about the E-ditions Program »

When does our acknowledgment of the social contract really begin? When do young children first display an understanding of their social world? When and why do they begin to grasp that other people have feelings and thoughts like their own, yet different? In this pathbreaking work, Judy Dunn explores several aspects of the early process of social discovery: children’s recognition of the feelings of others, their ability to interpret and anticipate the behavior and relationships of others, and their comprehension of the prohibitions and accepted practices of their world.

Dunn’s work brings into focus an apparent paradox in our current view of the very young child’s social understanding. Whereas research on infancy reveals that babies are born with a predisposition to learn about other people, and appear sensitive to the emotions and behavior of others, experimental studies suggest that children of three, four, and five years of age have difficulty gauging the feelings, intentions, and perceptions of others. Why should this social intelligence—which might be expected to be high on the developmental agenda—proceed so slowly? Is the social understanding of young children really so limited? Dunn pursues answers to these questions through close observation of children in their homes, in the complex social world of the family; her findings suggest a sophistication that has not yet been appreciated or documented.

The Beginnings of Social Understanding draws upon observations and analyses from three longitudinal studies of children during the transition from infancy to childhood, examining children’s disputes, jokes, play, their questions and narratives about others. The book demonstrates children’s increasing subtlety as members of a cultural world, and argues that emotional relationships and family discourse play crucial roles in the development of this understanding. Dunn breaks through traditional notions of child development as she sets forth a refreshingly original perspective from which to view the social potential of children.

Recent News

From Our Blog

Jacket: What Stars Are Made Of: The Life of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, by Donovan Moore, from Harvard University Press

The Most Famous Astronomer You’ve Never Heard Of

Despite her pioneering contributions to science, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin has not always been recognized as one of the most influential scientists of the twentieth century. In What Stars Are Made Of, Donovan Moore sets out to change this, with the first full biography of this trailblazing scientist. To celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we are pleased to highlight five

‘manifold glories of classical Greek and Latin’

The digital Loeb Classical Library ( extends the founding mission of James Loeb with an interconnected, fully searchable, perpetually growing virtual library of all that is important in Greek and Latin literature.