Research ArticlePSYCHOLOGY

The origin of pointing: Evidence for the touch hypothesis

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Advances  10 Jul 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 7, eaav2558
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav2558


Pointing gestures play a foundational role in human language, but up to now, we have not known where these gestures come from. Here, we investigated the hypothesis that pointing originates in touch. We found, first, that when pointing at a target, children and adults oriented their fingers not as though trying to create an “arrow” that picks out the target but instead as though they were aiming to touch it; second, that when pointing at a target at an angle, participants rotated their wrists to match that angle as they would if they were trying to touch the target; and last, that young children interpret pointing gestures as if they were attempts to touch things, not as arrows. These results provide the first substantial evidence that pointing originates in touch.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science Advances