Joint engagement in the home environment is frequent, multimodal, timely, and structured

Catalina Suarez-Rivera, Jacob L. Schatz, Orit Herzberg, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Infants develop in a social context, surrounded by knowledgeable caregivers who scaffold learning through shared engagement with objects. However, researchers have typically examined joint engagement in structured tasks, where caregivers sit near infants and display frequent, prompt, and multimodal behaviors around the objects of infant action. Which features of joint engagement generalize to the real-world? Despite the importance of joint engagement for infant learning, critical assumptions around joint engagement in everyday interaction remain unexamined. We investigated behavioral and temporal features of joint engagement in the home environment, where objects for play abound and dyad proximity fluctuates. Infant manual actions, mother manual and verbal behaviors, and dyad proximity were coded frame-by-frame from 2-h naturalistic recordings of 13- to 23-month-old infants and their mothers (N = 38). Infants experienced rich, highly structured, multimodal mother input around the objects of their actions. Specifically, joint engagement occurred within seconds of infant action and was amplified in the context of interpersonal proximity. Findings validate laboratory-based research on characteristics of joint engagement while highlighting unique properties around the role of mother–infant proximity and temporal structuring of caregiver input over extended time frames. Implications for the social contexts that support infant learning and development are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)232-254
Number of pages23
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • Joint engagement
  • infant-directed language
  • joint attention
  • multimodal behavior
  • object play
  • parent responsiveness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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