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Good Housekeeping
Jennifer Chan, Assistant Managing Editor
March 12, 2012

Pointing May Make Your Kids See You as More Knowledgeable

A recent study shows that, in a preschooler's eyes, the person pointing is the person of authority. By Jennifer Chan

You may already have noticed that kids are especially responsive to gestures. And a study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests they are willing to accept a person as knowledgeable if they see that the person is pointing.

Researchers conducted several experiments on 48 preschoolers—half of which were boys, while the others were girls. They showed their young participants a video of two women, four cups, and one ball. In all four experiments, one woman said that she was going to hide the ball under one of the cups while the other woman faced away. The children could see that the first woman had hidden the ball but had no idea which cup she had placed the ball under.

The children were then asked to choose which woman knew where the ball was. In the first two conditions, the women were either sitting down or simply grasping the cups in hand; the children answered correctly three times out of four. When they were shown the two women pointing, however, they merely got it right half the time.

To confirm these results and to make sure that the children didn’t think they were being asked which cup they themselves would look under, researchers showed eight other children the pointing sequences and asked them which woman had hidden the ball. Here, the children were able to make the right choices three times out of four.

Pointing, according to study author Carolyn Palmquist of the University of Virginia, is seen as a gesture of cooperative communication. Young children have an easier time understanding it because they expect everyone to be helpful and kind to them. If you want your kids to be more responsive, you can try pointing at things you're talking about. This establishes the fact that you are someone who is in the know and someone who they would probably do well to listen to.

For more on gestures, check these out on FN:

(Photo by mexikids via

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Jennifer Chan
Assistant Managing Editor
Jennifer Chan was a contributing writer for Female Network for two years before formally joining the team as a staff writer in July 2012... Read more...
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