Pointing Behaviors in Apes and Human Infants: A Balanced Interpretation


  • This article has been written as part of Project REFCOM, funded by the European Commission, Framework 6th, NEST-PATHFINFER initiative “What it means to be human.”

concerning this article should be addressed to Juan-Carlos Gómez, School of Psychology, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, KY16 9JP, U.K. Electronic mail may be sent to Jg5@st-andrews.ac.uk.


This article presents a tentatively “balanced” view (i.e., midway between lean and rich interpretations) of pointing behavior in infants and apes, based upon the notion of intentional reading of behavior without simultaneous attribution of unobservable mental states. This can account for the complexity of infant pointing without attributing multilayered mindreading to infants. It can also account for ape pointing, which shares some of the complexities of infant pointing, but departs from it in other respects, notably in its range of motives and its focus upon the regulation of executive behavior. The article explores some explanations for these similarities and differences and calls for a new look at human infant communication unbiased by adult communication models.