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She’s Not Listening

Children develop their understanding of the social and physical world through interactions with toys, people, and pets. Each category offers its own type of experience. Toys are inanimate, but because of that, toys are reliable in their reactions to pushes and pulls. On the other hand, people have inner worlds of desire,emotion, and free will. Children gradually learn to deal with the subjective states and implied messages given to them by other people.Pets, from the child's perspective, are sort of in between toys and people. Young children sometimes treat their pets as toys without feelings or free will. Then at other times young children assume that their pets can understand English and can anticipate their needs.

The following set of clips show how Avery, a bright, friendly four-year-old, works to get her dog Jasmine to lie down. She wants her dog to lie all the way down, with her head resting on the towel. Read the text to orient to key events. When you see a blue word you may click on it to see the video clip mentioned in the text.

First, Avery tries to get Jasmine to lie on the red towel. Jasmine reads Avery's signal, comes over, and rests on the towel, but Jasmine's head remains upright.

Avery has an idea - make Jasmine a pillow. Perhaps she thinks that the pillow will cause Jasmine to put her head all the way down. Avery covers Jasmine's paws with the towel and calls the towel a pillow. Even though Avery pats the pillow, Jasmine does not lay her head down.

Avery gets the other towel, covers Jasmine, including her head. Gently at first, but then more forcibly, Avery pounds Jasmine's head.

One is reminded of the joke about the untraveled American in France. When the American, speaking perfect English, is not understood by the Frenchman in the store, the American speaks more loudly. In like manner, when Jasmine does not lay her head down in response to a perfect pat, Avery pats harder. This behavior is a form of "listener blaming." The child makes the assumption that the listener is not paying attention. Thus a reasonable strategy is to make the stimulus more noticeable. As the child develops an understanding of communication the child will begin to consider the quality of the message as well as the attention of the listener.

The cameraperson says, "She's not listening is she?" After this comment it seems that Avery's hard pats become almost punitive; Jasmine is not minding Avery. The cameraperson has unwittingly reinforced the idea of listener blaming. But the cameraperson has sympathy for Jasmine, as you will see in the next clip.

After a few rather hard bangs from Avery, the cameraperson asks Avery if she can think of something else she can do to get Jasmine to lie down. Avery says, "A bone?"

Evidently Avery knows that bones can be used to coax a dog to do tricks and to obey. But does she understand that the bone is given only when the dog approximates the desired response or after performing the trick? Let's continue to watch and find out.

Avery could not find a dog-bone or dog biscuit. So instead, she gets some graham crackers. Avery gives a cracker to Jasmine with no particular command or coaxing to lie down.

The previous segment suggests that Avery knows that food can be used to get animals to perform. However she does not reason that the food should be offered after the act and serve as a reinforcement. She sort of "rewards" Jasmine in advance. Perhaps she thinks, "If I am nice to Jasmine, then Jasmine will be nice to me and will do what I ask." But how is Jasmine to know what it is that Avery desires?

The next clip may indicate that Avery has some dawning awareness that Jasmine does not understand where to place her head. Avery places the cracker on the towel. This has some logic because Jasmine has to lower her head to the towel to get the cracker. Paradoxically, after Jasmine eats the cracker, she is once more clueless about what Avery desires.

Avery is told by the adult not to use food because it may spoil Jasmine's appetite for more nourishing food. Avery then comes up with some more inventive ideas. Watch these clips to see what she tries next.

Avery tries water.

Avery thinks maybe Jasmine is more likely to lie down outside.

Avery lies down next to Jasmine.

Jasmine settles in and licks Avery on the lips.

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