Quantity and Quality of Gestural Input: Caregivers’ Sensitivity Predicts Caregiver–Infant Bidirectional Communication Through Gestures


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Children’s use of pointing and symbolic gestures—early communication skills which predict later language—is influenced by frequency of adults’ gestures. However, we wonder whether, like language, the sensitivity of adult–child interactions is also important for encouraging child gesturing, rather than simply quantity of adult gestural input. Furthermore, children’s use of gestures influences qualities of adult–child interaction, eliciting greater responsiveness and richer communication. Thus, we investigated the moderating role of nonparental caregiver sensitivity on the relationship between caregivers’ and infants’ use of pointing and symbolic gestures. We observed 10 infants (ages 6–19 months) over 8 months with a total of 24 student caregivers completing short‐term internships, recording adult and child use of pointing and symbolic gestures. We used longitudinal growth models to examine change in gesturing and moderating roles of caregiver sensitivity in the relations between caregiver and child gesturing behavior. Caregivers’ sensitivity moderated effects of caregivers’ symbolic gestures on infants’ pointing and symbolic gestures, and the effects of infants’ pointing and symbolic gesture frequency on caregivers’ gesture use. Thus, caregivers’ gestures are most effective in supporting child gestures when in the context of sensitive interactions. Sensitivity is central to supporting children’s early communicative behaviors, including pointing and symbolic gestures.

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