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Between Terror and Trust: Patterns of Parent-Infant Communication in Play
Unformatted Document Text:  to be simple-minded, her mind is in fact highly complex and sophisticated, integrating emotional terror with parental trust without destroying the pretend space that makes the game pedagogically effective. The dimension of life and death that these games symbolically engage have led us to posit that monster games may have an evolutionary component that supplements and undergirds the culturally varied expressions of this communicational transaction. In evolutionary history, we argue, human infants were under a persistent danger of predation. While experience is an excellent taskmaster in regards to a vast number of skills, it is not adequate for solving the problems of how to respond to a predator. An infant cannot be eaten by a lion the first time, and in this manner slowly learn the skills required to get away. The challenge of escaping from a predator must be wholly successful on the very first occasion. This appears to pose a nearly intractable problem, breaking the mold of a central human learning strategy. In order to overcome this problem, we propose, the child must simulate the lion -- or any other predator -- before it actually appears. It is within the context of such a simulation that we propose to situate one level of explanation for the father-infant transactions we observe in the various forms of monster play. We are investigating the possibility that the child reliably develops a generic schema of a predator, and that it is this schema which is aroused by playful growls, pretended lunges, raised arms as if in attack, and mock biting and eating. The conception of a monster, we suggest, names the set of cues and the subjective phenomenology that is accompanied by the arousal of this generic predator schema. To illustrate the point that play within a simulated scenario is a cheap and

Authors: Kyas, Jirina. and Steen, Francis.
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to be simple-minded, her mind is in fact highly complex and sophisticated, integrating
emotional terror with parental trust without destroying the pretend space that makes the
game pedagogically effective.
The dimension of life and death that these games symbolically engage have led us
to posit that monster games may have an evolutionary component that supplements and
undergirds the culturally varied expressions of this communicational transaction. In
evolutionary history, we argue, human infants were under a persistent danger of
predation. While experience is an excellent taskmaster in regards to a vast number of
skills, it is not adequate for solving the problems of how to respond to a predator. An
infant cannot be eaten by a lion the first time, and in this manner slowly learn the skills
required to get away. The challenge of escaping from a predator must be wholly
successful on the very first occasion. This appears to pose a nearly intractable problem,
breaking the mold of a central human learning strategy.
In order to overcome this problem, we propose, the child must simulate the lion --
or any other predator -- before it actually appears. It is within the context of such a
simulation that we propose to situate one level of explanation for the father-infant
transactions we observe in the various forms of monster play. We are investigating the
possibility that the child reliably develops a generic schema of a predator, and that it is
this schema which is aroused by playful growls, pretended lunges, raised arms as if in
attack, and mock biting and eating. The conception of a monster, we suggest, names the
set of cues and the subjective phenomenology that is accompanied by the arousal of this
generic predator schema.
To illustrate the point that play within a simulated scenario is a cheap and


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