Embodied attention in infant pointing

Franco, Fabia ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1327-1080 (2013) Embodied attention in infant pointing. In: Agency and joint attention. Metcalfe, Janet, Sparrow, Betsy and Terrace, Herbert S., eds. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199988341. [Book Section]


The way in which infants attempt to instigate communication based on shared events has been the object of less intense investigation than the study of infants’ abilities, for example, for gaze following, possibly because of the specific challenges presented by production studies with pre-verbal participants. However, there are uniquely interesting aspects in the study of infant pointing. If gaze following may be considered the displacement of one’s attention onto the target selected by someone else for either communication or action purposes, pointing is not simply its production twin. When a baby follows the gaze of an adult, usually contingent with a head-turn, we assume that this indicates the baby’s acknowledgment that there must be something worthwhile to look at ‘over there’. From a behavioural point of view, all is required of the baby is to mirror the adult’s visual action, in the first instance. When a baby points, s/he takes the initiative to select a target and uses a gesture with symbolic status and cultural variants in order to instigate someone else’s displacement of attention onto the selected target. Not only the action is more complex than gaze following, but it may fail to achieve its goal if care is not taken to produce the crucial gesture in good coordination with the ongoing interaction with the addressee – namely, with the addressee’s own attention. In this chapter, I will analyze the kind of knowledge that infants develop about sharing attention with other social agents using evidence from my own experiments on declarative pointing by infants and toddlers.
It is argued that attention, in comparison with other mental states, presents at least some, however minimal, behavioral correlates (hence higher imageability): for example, body and head orientation, eyes open, temporal synchrony between these behaviours and the topical events, postural adjustments etc. Also, attention can be shared by acting it out: infant pointing may be considered as embodied imagery allowing the alignment of cognitive states between social partners. In this respect, communicative experiences arising from pointing would provide the infant with an insight into the mental domain, supported by the comparison and integration of one’s own and the addressee’s perceptual experiences. The special relationship that has for long been suggested between pointing and language may stem from the extension of communication beyond the here-&-now, for instance pointing to something that the addressee has not witnessed. This could instigate a new type of multi-modal shared communication acts (e.g., see McNeill et al., 2008; Quek, Rose & McNeill, 2005), thus facilitating the development of symbolic communication.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology > Language, Learning and Cognition group
A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology
Item ID: 7548
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Fabia Franco
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2013 05:47
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2019 17:19
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/7548

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Activity Overview
6 month trend
6 month trend

Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.