Developmental Changes in Infants’ Visual Attention to Pointing

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Pointing and eye gaze are deictic gestures that can be used to orient the attention of another person towards some distal referent. Recent research reveals that very young infants shift their attention in response to gaze cues. The current study tested whether 4- and 6-month-old infants’ also reflexively orient in the direction of a pointing hand (Figure 1). Infants were tested for 48 trials in a gaze-contingent paradigm using a Tobii eye tracking system. At the beginning of each trial, infants’ gaze was attracted to the center of the screen, and then a pointing hand or foil replaced the attention-getter. After infants looked for 100 or 500 ms (SOA), a moving and sounding target appeared to the left or right of the stimulus cue. The target remained visible until localized by the infant, and then both stimulus cue and target disappeared terminating the trial. Targets were congruent with the direction of the stimulus cue on 50% of the trials. When the SOA was 500 ms, 4-month-old, but not 6-month-old, infants responded faster to the congruent target when cued by the pointing hand, but not when cued by the foil (Figures 2 and 3). Reflexive orienting by adults occurs only when the SOA is less than 500 ms; intentional orienting occurs at slower SOAs. When the SOA was 100 ms, 6-month-old infants responded faster to the congruent than to the incongruent pointing hand, but this differential response did not generalize to the foil (Figure 4). These results suggest that young infants shift their attention in the direction of a pointing hand, but that this process undergoes a developmental shift between 4 and 6 months of age.


International Congress on Infant Studies Biennial Meeting (ICIS)


Minneapolis, MN