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Twelve-month-olds understand social intentions based on prosody and gesture shape

Esteve-Gibert, N., Prieto, P., & Liszkowski, U. (2017). Twelve-month-olds understand social intentions based on prosody and gesture shape. Infancy, 22, 108-129. doi:10.1111/infa.12146.
Infants infer social and pragmatic intentions underlying attention-directing gestures, but the basis on which infants make these inferences is not well understood. Previous studies suggest that infants rely on information from preceding shared action contexts and joint perceptual scenes. Here, we tested whether 12-month-olds use information from act-accompanying cues, in particular prosody and hand shape, to guide their pragmatic understanding. In Experiment 1, caregivers directed infants’ attention to an object to request it, share interest in it, or inform them about a hidden aspect. Caregivers used distinct prosodic and gestural patterns to express each pragmatic intention. Experiment 2 was identical except that experimenters provided identical lexical information across conditions and used three sets of trained prosodic and gestural patterns. In all conditions, the joint perceptual scenes and preceding shared action contexts were identical. In both experiments, infants reacted appropriately to the adults’ intentions by attending to the object mostly in the sharing interest condition, offering the object mostly in the imperative condition, and searching for the referent mostly in the informing condition. Infants’ ability to comprehend pragmatic intentions based on prosody and gesture shape expands infants’ communicative understanding from common activities to novel situations for which shared background knowledge is missing.
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