Intention or attention before pointing: Do infants’ early hold out gestures reflect evidence of a declarative motive?

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Gestures are the first signs of intentional communication within pre-linguistic infants and can reflect various motives, including a declarative motive to share attention and interest. The ability to use gestures declaratively has been linked to later language development; therefore it is important to understand the origins of this motive. Previous research has focused on the use of declarative pointing at around 12 months; however other potential forms of declarative communication, such as holdout gestures, are yet to be studied in detail. The purpose of this study was to examine whether from 10 months, infants use holdouts declaratively. We elicited holdouts from 36 infants, and then reacted to these gestures in four different conditions: (1) joint attention: shared interest; (2) infant attention: attended to infant; (3) toy attention: attended to toy; (4) ignore: gesture was not attended to. Infants’ behavioural responses were recorded. When the experimenter engaged in joint attention, infants were significantly more likely to display a positive attitude and produced fewer re-engagement attempts. In contrast, the three non-joint attention conditions displayed significantly higher negative attitudes and attempts to re-engage the experimenter. We conclude that infants display declarative communication prior to 12 months, resetting the age at which these more complex skills emerge.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Article number0
Pages (from-to)228-248
Number of pages21
Issue number2
Early online date10 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2018

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