Nonverbal communicative signals modulate attention to object properties

Hanna Marno, Eddy J. Davelaar, Gergely Csibra

Research output: Article

11 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated whether the social context in which an object is experienced influences the encoding of its various properties. We hypothesized that when an object is observed in a communicative context, its intrinsic features (such as its shape) would be preferentially encoded at the expense of its extrinsic properties (such as its location). In 3 experiments, participants were presented with brief movies, in which an actor either performed a noncommunicative action toward 1 of 5 different meaningless objects, or communicatively pointed at 1 of them. A subsequent static image, in which either the location or the identity of an object changed, tested participants' attention to these 2 kinds of information. Throughout the 3 experiments we found that communicative cues tended to facilitate identity change detection and to impede location change detection, whereas in the noncommunicative contexts we did not find such a bidirectional effect of cueing. The results also revealed that the effect of the communicative context was a result the presence of ostensive-communicative signals before the object-directed action, and not to the pointing gesture per se. We propose that such an attentional bias forms an inherent part of human communication, and function to facilitate social learning by communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)752-762
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - ápr. 2014


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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