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Dynamic pointing triggers shifts of visual attention in young infants


Katharina J. Rohlfing, Emergentist Semantics Group, Bielefeld University, Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC), Universitätsstrasse 21–23, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany; e-mail:


Pointing, like eye gaze, is a deictic gesture that can be used to orient the attention of another person towards an object or an event. Previous research suggests that infants first begin to follow a pointing gesture between 10 and 13 months of age. We investigated whether sensitivity to pointing could be seen at younger ages employing a technique recently used to show early sensitivity to perceived eye gaze. Three experiments were conducted with 4.5- and 6.5-month-old infants. Our first goal was to examine whether these infants could show a systematic response to pointing by shifting their visual attention in the direction of a pointing gesture when we eliminated the difficulty of disengaging fixation from a pointing hand. The results from Experiments 1 and 2 suggest that a dynamic, but not a static, pointing gesture triggers shifts of visual attention in infants as young as 4.5 months of age. Our second goal was to clarify whether this response was based on sensitivity to the directional posture of the pointing hand, the motion of the pointing hand, or both. The results from Experiment 3 suggest that the direction of motion is necessary but not sufficient to orient infants’ attention toward a distal target. Infants shifted their attention in the direction of the pointing finger, but only when the hand was moving in the same direction. These results suggest that infants are prepared to orient to the distal referent of a pointing gesture which likely contributes to their learning the communicative function of pointing.