To Sign or Not to Sign? The Impact of Encouraging Infants to Gesture on Infant Language and Maternal Mind-Mindedness


  • This research was supported in part by a research grant from the Economic and Social Research Centre (RES00223355). We thank all of the mothers and children for their enthusiasm and commitment to the project.

  • [Correction added on 10/17/2012, after first online publication 10/3/2012: The fourth author's name has been corrected.]

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Elizabeth Kirk, Department of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL10 9AB. Electronic mail may be sent to


Findings are presented from the first randomized control trial of the effects of encouraging symbolic gesture (or “baby sign”) on infant language, following 40 infants from age 8 months to 20 months. Half of the mothers were trained to model a target set of gestures to their infants. Frequent measures were taken of infant language development and dyadic interactions were scrutinized to assess mind-mindedness. Infants exposed to gesture did not differ from control conditions on language outcomes; thus, no support was found for previous claims that encouraging gesturing with infants accelerates linguistic development. Microgenetic analysis revealed mothers in the gesture training conditions were more responsive to their infants' nonverbal cues and encouraged more independent action by their infant.