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      The ontogenesis of narrative: from moving to meaning

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          Narrative, the creation of imaginative projects and experiences displayed in expressions of movement and voice, is how human cooperative understanding grows. Human understanding places the character and qualities of objects and events of interest within stories that portray intentions, feelings, and ambitions, and how one cares about them. Understanding the development of narrative is therefore essential for understanding the development of human intelligence, but its early origins are obscure. We identify the origins of narrative in the innate sensorimotor intelligence of a hypermobile human body and trace the ontogenesis of narrative form from its earliest expression in movement. Intelligent planning, with self-awareness, is evident in the gestures and motor expressions of the mid-gestation fetus. After birth, single intentions become serially organized into projects with increasingly ambitious distal goals and social meaning. The infant imitates others’ actions in shared tasks, learns conventional cultural practices, and adapts his own inventions, then names topics of interest. Through every stage, in simple intentions of fetal movement, in social imitations of the neonate, in early proto-conversations and collaborative play of infants and talk of children and adults, the narrative form of creative agency with it four-part structure of ‘introduction,’ ‘development,’ ‘climax,’ and ‘resolution’ is present. We conclude that shared rituals of culture and practical techniques develop from a fundamental psycho-motor structure with its basic, vital impulses for action and generative process of thought-in-action that express an integrated, imaginative, and sociable Self. This basic structure is evident before birth and invariant in form throughout life. Serial organization of single, non-verbal actions into complex projects of expressive and explorative sense-making become conventional meanings and explanations with propositional narrative power. Understanding the root of narrative in embodied meaning-making in this way is important for practical work in therapy and education, and for advancing philosophy and neuroscience.

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          The principles of psychology

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            Understanding and sharing intentions: the origins of cultural cognition.

            We propose that the crucial difference between human cognition and that of other species is the ability to participate with others in collaborative activities with shared goals and intentions: shared intentionality. Participation in such activities requires not only especially powerful forms of intention reading and cultural learning, but also a unique motivation to share psychological states with others and unique forms of cognitive representation for doing so. The result of participating in these activities is species-unique forms of cultural cognition and evolution, enabling everything from the creation and use of linguistic symbols to the construction of social norms and individual beliefs to the establishment of social institutions. In support of this proposal we argue and present evidence that great apes (and some children with autism) understand the basics of intentional action, but they still do not participate in activities involving joint intentions and attention (shared intentionality). Human children's skills of shared intentionality develop gradually during the first 14 months of life as two ontogenetic pathways intertwine: (1) the general ape line of understanding others as animate, goal-directed, and intentional agents; and (2) a species-unique motivation to share emotions, experience, and activities with other persons. The developmental outcome is children's ability to construct dialogic cognitive representations, which enable them to participate in earnest in the collectivity that is human cognition.
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              The construction of reality in the child.


                Author and article information

                1Early Years, School of Education, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Strathclyde Glasgow, UK
                2School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, The University of Edinburgh UK
                Author notes

                Edited by: Rana Esseily, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre la Defense, France

                Reviewed by: Cheryl Dissanayake, La Trobe University, Australia; Moritz M. Daum, University of Zurich, Switzerland

                *Correspondence: Jonathan T. Delafield-Butt, Early Years, School of Education, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Lord Hope Building, St. James Road, Glasgow G4 0LT, UK, jonathan.delafield-butt@

                This article was submitted to Developmental Psychology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology

                URI :
                URI :
                Front Psychol
                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychol.
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                02 September 2015
                : 6
                Copyright © 2015 Delafield-Butt and Trevarthen.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                Figures: 4, Tables: 2, Equations: 0, References: 150, Pages: 16, Words: 0
                Hypothesis and Theory


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