The emotional and embodied nature of human understanding: sharing narratives of meaning

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

20 Downloads (Pure)


This chapter explores the emotional and embodied nature of children’s learning to discover biological principles of social awareness, affective contact, and shared sense-making useful for school learning. The origins of learning are evident in purposeful movements of the body before birth. Simple self-generated actions learn to anticipate their sensory effects. In their action they generate a small ‘story’ that progresses through time, giving meaningful satisfaction on their successful completion. During child development, simple actions become organised into complex projects requiring greater appreciation of their consequences, expanding in capacity and reach. They are mediated first by brainstem conscious control made with vital feelings, which builds the foundations for a more abstract, cortically mediated cognitive intelligence in later life. By tracing development of meaning-making from simple projects of the infant to complex shared projects in early childhood, we can better appreciate the embodied narrative form of human understanding in healthy affective contact, how it may be disrupted in children with clinical disorders or educational difficulties, and how it responds in joyful projects to teachers’ support for learning.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Child's Curriculum
Subtitle of host publicationWorking with the Natural Values of Young Children
EditorsColwyn Trevarthen, Jonathan Delafield-Butt, Aline-Wendy Dunlop
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages34
ISBN (Print)9780198747109
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sep 2018


  • child development
  • narrative
  • education
  • meaning-making
  • embodied cognition
  • intersubjectivity


Dive into the research topics of 'The emotional and embodied nature of human understanding: sharing narratives of meaning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this