Daum, M., Ulber, J., Gredebäck, G. (2013) The development of pointing perception in infancy: Effects of communicative verbal signals on covert shifts of attention Developmental Psychology, 49, 1898-1908

The present study aims at investigating the interplay of verbal and non-verbal communication with respect to infants’ perception of pointing gestures. Infants were presented with still images of pointing hands (cue) in combination with an acoustic stimulus. The communicative content of this acoustic stimulus was varied from being human and communicative to artificial. Saccadic reaction times (SRTs) from cue to a peripheral target were measured as an indicator for the modulation of covert attention. The cueing effect (SRT-difference between congruent and incongruent trials) increased the more human and communicative the acoustic stimulus was, with a significant cueing effect being present only in the condition with referential language. This indicates a beneficial effect of verbal communication on the perception of non-verbal pointing gestures emphasizing verbal communication as an important factor facilitating social understanding across domains. These findings additionally suggest a close interrelation of language and action already at one year of age.