Infants use shared experience to interpret pointing gestures

Authors

  • Kristin Liebal,

    1. Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
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  • Tanya Behne,

    1. Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
    2. School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, UK
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  • Malinda Carpenter,

    1. Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
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  • Michael Tomasello

    1. Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
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Address for correspondence: Kristin Liebal, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany; e-mail: kliebal@eva.mpg.de

Abstract

We investigated whether 1-year-old infants use their shared experience with an adult to determine the meaning of a pointing gesture. In the first study, after two adults had each shared a different activity with the infant, one of the adults pointed to a target object. Eighteen- but not 14-month-olds responded appropriately to the pointing gesture based on the particular activity they had previously shared with that particular adult. In the second study, 14-month-olds were successful in a simpler procedure in which the pointing adult either had or had not shared a relevant activity with the infant prior to the pointing. Infants just beginning to learn language thus already show a complex understanding of the pragmatics of cooperative communication in which shared experience with particular individuals plays a crucial role.

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