Pointing

Babies point at objects because they really want to touch them:

The first test revealed that we don’t necessarily angle a pointing finger in a way that will direct another observer’s attention towards the object we are pointing at. Rather, a virtual line runs from our eye through our fingertip and towards the object, as if we were reaching to touch the object.

The second test looked at the way we rotate our wrists when pointing at objects – for instance, how we point at a magnet attached to the right-facing side of a box that is placed directly in front of us. Even infants, if using their right hand to point at the magnet, will often rotate their wrist almost 180 degrees so that the pad of their pointing finger is directed towards the magnet, as if reaching to touch it.

The third tested how people interpret a pointing gesture being performed by someone else. It showed that 18-month-olds and 3-year-olds – but not nine-year-olds and adults – understand a pointing gesture to be an attempt by someone to touch an object, not an attempt to use their finger as an ‘arrow’ to direct attention in a certain direction.

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