How are ideas formed? What is the process that leads to the development of a child’s first idea? What is the role of affect and social interaction in this process?

Dr. Stanley Greenspan developed and wrote about idea formation in his First Idea book that he wrote with Dr. Stuart Shanker: The First Idea: How Symbols, Language, and Intelligence Evolved from Early Primates to Modern Humans.

When you are in the catastrophic expressive mode of emotions, you are living by your affect. You’re going from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds. You’re in the fight or flight reaction mode. when you get into the catastrophic expressive mode, your perceptions and your actions are tied together so tightly that perception and action become almost a singular unit. You see and you grab. You get mad and you bite. You get scared and you withdraw. So you got perception and action tied tightly together.

When you get into co-regulated affect signaling, you now are no longer tied to these perceptual motor patterns. Now you have interactive emotional signaling as a substitute for catastrophic discharge. So for the first time perception and motor reaction are separated.

Now you have perception. You see mommy. You want some milk. You don’t just scream and yell. You don’t just grab, but you flirt. You want to hug. You don’t just grab. You flirt. Now you have affect signaling in-between the perception and the action. So we’re separating perception from action.

Once we separate perception from action, what is a freestanding perception? If you see a picture, if you see mommy, you’re not driven to action. So what you have in your mind is a multi-sensory picture. You have a freestanding image. What can you do with that image pattern? You begin investing it with different emotions from different experiences. Mommy hugs me. Mommy does this with me. Mommy does that with me. Daddy does this with me.

An image builds up emotional investment. And that emotionally invested image becomes the first idea. That’s the way we believe ideas are formed. Perceptions get freed from their actions through co-regulative affect signaling, take on emotional meaning, and become the first ideas. We think that’s what happened in evolution, and we think that’s what happens in the life of each baby.

Of course there has to be a certain biological substrate for this to happen, but we believe the interactive elements are the sufficient part. The biology and physiology is necessary but not sufficient. The social interaction is the sufficient condition that gives birth to symbol formation.

Learn more about Dr. Stanley Greenspan and the Greenspan Floortime approach. If you are new, we have a background and introduction to Greenspan Floortime including how it helps special needs children. We also have Greenspan Floortime training courses at Floortime U. specifically designed for parents and professionals including the Floortime Manual.

Want to learn more? Want a deeper dive into Floortime and idea development? Try one of our courses at Floortime U!

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