The what and the how: Information-seeking pointing gestures facilitate learning labels and functions

Kelsey Lucca, Makeba Parramore Wilbourn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Infants’ pointing gestures are clear and salient markers of their interest. As a result, they afford infants with a targeted and precise way of eliciting information from others. The current study investigated whether, similar to older children's question asking, infants’ pointing gestures are produced to obtain information. Specifically, in a single experimental study, we examined whether 18-month-olds (N = 36) point to request specific types of information and how this translates into learning across domains. We elicited pointing from infants in a context that would naturally lend itself to information seeking (i.e., out-of-reach novel objects). In response to infants’ points, an experimenter provided a label, a function, or no information for each pointed-to object. We assessed infants’ persistence after receiving different types of information and their subsequent ability to form label–object or function–object associations. When infants pointed and received no information or functions, they persisted significantly more often than when they pointed and received labels, suggesting that they were most satisfied with receiving labels for objects compared with functions or no information. Infants successfully mapped both labels and functions onto objects. When infants expressed their interest in a novel object in a manner other than pointing, such as reaching, they (a) were equally satisfied with receiving object labels, functions, or no information and (b) did not successfully learn either labels or functions. Together, these findings demonstrate that infants’ pointing gestures are specific requests for labels that facilitate the acquisition of various types of information. In doing so, this work connects the research on information seeking during infancy to the established literature on question asking during childhood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-436
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive development
  • Fast mapping
  • Information seeking
  • Language acquisition
  • Learning
  • Pointing gestures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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