Differences in How 12- and 24-Month-Olds Interpret the Gaze of Adults


Department of Psychology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 4J1, Canada. E-mail: moorec@dal.ca


This study examined the hypothesis that toddlers interpret an adult's head turn as evidence that the adult was looking at something, whereas younger infants interpret gaze based on an expectancy that an interesting object will be present on the side to which the adult has turned. Infants of 12 months and toddlers of 24 months were first shown that an adult head turn to the side predicted the activation of a remote-controlled toy on that side of the room. After this connection had been demonstrated, participants were assigned to 2 conditions. In the head turn condition the toys were removed but the adult continued to produce head turns to the side. In the toy condition the adult stopped turning but the toys continued to be activated when the participant turned toward them. Results showed that, compared to 12-month-olds, 24-month-olds were more likely to continue to turn to the side when the adult continued to turn even though there was no longer anything of interest to see. In contrast, compared to 24-month-olds, 12-month-olds were, if anything, more likely to continue to turn to the side in the condition in which the adult stopped turning. The latter result was replicated in a condition in which the activation of the toy was not contingent on the child's own head turn. These results imply that the meaning of gaze following may change significantly over the 2nd year of life. For 12-month-olds, gaze is a useful predictor of where interesting sights may occur. In contrast, for 24-month-olds, gaze may be a signal that the adult is looking at something.