18-month-olds comprehend indirect communicative acts.
From soon after their first birthdays young children are able to make inferences from a communicator's referential act (e.g., pointing to a container) to her overall social goal for communication (e.g., to inform that a searched-for toy is inside; see Behne, Carpenter, & Tomasello, 2005; Behne, Liszkowski, Carpenter, & Tomasello, 2012). But in such cases the inferential distance between referential act and communicative intention is still fairly close, as both container and searched-for toy lie in the direction of the pointing gesture. In the current study we tested 18- and 26-month-old children in a situation in which referential act and communicative goal were more distant: In the midst of a game, the child needed a certain toy. The experimenter then held up a key (that they knew in common ground could be used to open a container) to the child ostensively. In two control conditions the experimenter either inadvertently moved the key and so drew the child's attention to it non-ostensively or else held up the key for her own inspection intentionally but non-communicatively. Children of both ages took only the ostensive showing of the key, not the accidental moving or the non-ostensive but intentional inspection of the key, as an indirect request to take the key and open the container to retrieve the toy inside. From soon after they start acquiring language young children thus are able to infer a communicator's social goal for communication not only from directly-referential acts, but from more indirect communicative acts as well.
Volume / Issue
Start / End Page
Pubmed Central ID
Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)
International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)