Ostensive signals contribute to the segmentation of actions in toddlers.

Kliesch, C., Hoehl, S., Reid, V., Parise, E. Ostensive signals contribute to the segmentation of actions in toddlers. (2019). Poster presented at the Budapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development (BCCCD19), Budapest, Hungary.


Ostensive signals such as direct gaze and infant-directed speech denote pedagogical contexts. Additionally, ostensive signals may also provide structural information. Parents use ostensive sig- nals such as direct gaze particularly at event boundaries (Brand, Hollenbeck, & Kominsky, 2013; Brand, Shallcross, Sabatos, & Massie, 2007). We investigated whether ostensive signals can help to segment action sequences and change children’s imitation of the actions using a paradigm by Carpenter, Call, and Tomasello (2005): When an experimenter moved an animal in a hopping or slid- ing movement, infants were less likely to imitate the manner when they were shown the animal go into a house, compared to when they saw the action being performed on its own. It is possible that children perceived the action manner and outcome as part of a single action. In the current study, we investigated whether addressing toddlers with a short “Wow” and direct gaze after the hopping/ sliding, but before putting the animal into the house (boundary marked) poises them to perceive both actions as separate and increases their manner imitation. A control group was addressed after the animal was put in the house (boundary unmarked).
For the salient hopping action, marking the boundary between action manner and outcome did not increase imitation. However, for the less salient sliding action, marking the boundary increased imita- tion considerably. These results highlight the complex relationship between actions, salience and ostensive signals during pedagogical interactions and suggest that ostensive signals can contribute structural information to segment actions.