pointing gesture in infants

Social pointing in infants develops between 9 months (understanding) and 12 months (production) and is a fundamental communicative gesture. Prior, pointing is primarily used for private purposes, like touching objects or regulating ones own attention (Carpendale & Carpendal 2010). Tomasello & Gonzales-Cabrera (2017) claim that social pointing suddenly makes a huge leap at around 9 months, while Capendale & Lewis (2004) argue for a continuous development of preverbal communication.

In research, two types of pointing are coded when observing infants:

  • Non-Social Pointing (no eye-contact)
    • guide own attention
    • touch
    • reach
    • reflex
    • imitation
  • Social Pointing (eye-contact) - shared attention!
    • social exchange of information (declarative)
    • express desire/need (imperative)

Pointing frequency during development is associated with a variety of other skills

  • language development (Rowe & Goldin-Meadow, 2009; Sauer et al., 2010)
  • theory of mindtheory of mind
    development (Sodian & Kristen-Antonow, 2015)
  • action explanations (Colonnesi et al., 2008)
  • epistemic speech (Kühn-Popp et al., 2016)

Canonical pointing: Only index finger extended, other fingers retracted

There are multiple theories as to why/how the pointing gesture develops:

  • Touch (tactile exploration)
  • Reaching (failed touching attempt)
  • Attention (upholding ones own Attention)
  • Reflex (unwanted action as reflex)
  • Imitation

However, the literature agrees that pointing before 12 months is not social in nature.