Abstract

Humans are extremely sensitive to ostensive signals, like eye contact or having their name called, that indicate someone's communicative intention toward them [1-3]. Infants also pay attention to these signals [4-6], but it is unknown whether they appreciate their significance in the initiation of communicative acts. In two experiments, we employed video presentation of an actor turning toward one of two objects and recorded infants' gaze-following behavior [7-13] with eye tracking techniques [11, 12]. We found that 6-month-old infants followed the adult's gaze (a potential communicative-referential signal) toward an object only when such an act is preceded by ostensive cues such as direct gaze (experiment 1) and infant-directed speech (experiment 2). Such a link between the presence of ostensive signals and gaze-following suggests that this behavior serves a functional role in assisting infants to effectively respond to referential communication directed to them. Whereas gaze following in many nonhuman species supports social information gathering [14-18], in humans it initially appears to reflect the expectation of a more active, communicative role from the information source.