Understanding Ostensive Behavior in Making Inferences of Referential Intentions

  • Harumi Kobayashi Tokyo Denki University
  • Oga Kobori Tokyo Denki University
  • Yasuo Ihara University of Tokyo
  • Hiroyuki Yaguchi Tokyo Denki University
  • Tetsuya Yasuda Tokyo Denki University
Keywords: pointing gesture, ostensive behavior, relevance, pedagogy


In ostensive-inferential communication, the speaker’s communicative intention must be explicitly presented to the listener, which can be done with both verbal and nonverbal cues. Pointing gesture is an important tool in human ostensive communication. Its interpretation and potential roles in human evolution, however, have not yet been explored. When people produce referential actions, more effortful referential actions may promote different interpretations in the recipient than facile, less effortful actions. In this study, the experimenter demonstrated an effortful pointing, and the participant interpreted its meaning. When effortful pointing was used (i.e., pointing that entails touching an object while tilting one’s body forward looking directly at the stimulus), participants thought that a part of the object was being indicated rather than the whole object. This study discussed the relationship between these findings and pedagogy on stone-tool making.

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