Enforced pointing gesture can indicate invisible objects behind a wall


The pointing gesture is regarded as indicating an object or location in the environment. People sometimes point to invisible objects, but the inferential mechanism is not known. This study examined comprehension of pointing with a bent index finger at an invisible object behind a wall. The experimenter pointed at an object using either typical pointing or “enforced pointing” behind a wall that was either opaque or transparent. In enforced pointing, the experimenter moved his arm in an arc movement. The participants guessed which object was being denoted. The wall was also either relatively high or relatively low. When the participants looked at typical pointing, they thought that objects both in front of the wall and behind the wall were being denoted. However, when they looked at enforced pointing, they more frequently thought that objects behind the wall were denoted. People seemed to use pragmatic knowledge on this “enforced” pointing gesture.

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