How Children Use Pointing Gestures to Learn

In addition to sharing information through spoken language, humans are quite good at learning from, and teaching, others using nonverbal communication (like pointing gestures and meaningful eye gaze). This series of studies explores how children use pointing to make decisions about who may be a good source of information and whether children’s expectations about the usefulness of pointing may lead them to over-attribute knowledge to others. 

Good Interaction, or Good Outcome?

One way that we are able to determine whether someone might be a helpful collaborator or a useful source of information in the future is by keeping track of the kinds of information or help they have provided in the past. And while some research suggests that adults are able to keep track of interactions in this way, it seems that this approach could involve too much memory and monitoring for young children. This series of studies explores whether children do, indeed, monitor each interaction they have had with sources of information, or whether they use some kind of heuristic (like whether interacting with someone led to a good outcome) to determine who they will seek information from in the future.  

Children’s Expectations about Pointing

Previous work has found that children often assume that pointing gestures are truthful and helpful, even in situations where someone providing the gesture might not have any reliable information to provide. The belief is that children’s expectations about pointing are so strong, they sometimes override their ability to effectively evaluate various learning situations. This series of studies is exploring other kinds of expectations that children have about the gesture. For instance, do they believe it can only be used to affirm information? Or do they believe that pointing can also be used to negate something as well?