Cognitive Processing

, Volume 13, Supplement 2, pp 477–485

Observing social signals in scaffolding interactions: how to detect when a helping intention risks falling short


DOI: 10.1007/s10339-011-0422-z

Cite this article as:
Leone, G. Cogn Process (2012) 13(Suppl 2): 477. doi:10.1007/s10339-011-0422-z


In face-to-face interactions, some social signals are aimed at regulating scaffolding processes, by which more knowledgeable people try to help less knowledgeable ones, to enable them to learn new concepts or skills (Vygotsky 1978). Observing face-to-face scaffolding interactions might not only allow us to grasp a large variety of these highly interesting social signals but may also be useful for the sake of scaffolding processes themselves. It often happens, in fact, that the empowering intentions implicit in these processes end up falling short, if the social signals regulating this specific kind of face-to-face interaction are misunderstood. Interestingly, many of these misunderstood aspects are related to the recipient’s role. Indeed, attention is usually focused on the behavior of those imparting the knowledge, while skills already mastered by the learners, as well as their feedback, tend not to be taken as much into account. For the purpose of exploring the often very subtly nuanced social signals regulating on-going scaffolding processes in real-life interactions, an example of a methodological tool is presented: one already used to observe the interactions of dyads of Italian primary school teachers and their pupils, and mothers and their children. The article leads to two main conclusions: that the results of instances of scaffolding may be predicted as to their success or otherwise simply by telescoping crucial social signals during the scaffolding’s initial phases, and that when helpers disregard these signals the effects of their actions may be detrimental or even humiliating for the receivers, notwithstanding the helper’s intentions.


Social signals Scaffolding Over-helping Game simulation Video-feedback 

Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sapienza Università di RomaRomeItaly

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