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Infant pointing serves an interrogative function

Authors


Victoria Southgate, Henry Wellcome Building, Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, UK; e-mail: v.southgate@bbk.ac.uk

Abstract

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the motivations behind, and the function of, infant pointing behaviour. Many studies have converged on the view that early pointing reflects a motivation to share attention and interest with others. Under one view, it is the sharing of attention itself that is the ultimate function of pointing, and is an early manifestation of a uniquely human social cognition that is geared towards cooperation and collaboration. In the current study, we tested an alternative hypothesis in which the goal of pointing is not attention sharing itself, but the information-laden response that infants tend to receive as a result of sharing attention. If infants indeed point in order to obtain information, their pointing should be modulated by the perceived ability of the other to provide this information. In Experiment 1, 16-month-olds who interacted with a demonstrably knowledgeable experimenter pointed significantly more to novel objects than infants who interacted with an ignorant experimenter. In Experiment 2, we confirmed that this finding was due to the perceived competence of the experimenter rather than to the different ways in which the experimenter responded to infants’ points. Our results suggest that one function of pointing in infancy is to obtain information from others, and that infants selectively elicit desired information from those whom they perceive could competently provide it.

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