The relationship between infant pointing and language development: A meta-analytic review

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Publication details

JournalDevelopmental Review
DateE-pub ahead of print - 18 Mar 2022
DatePublished (current) - Jun 2022
Number of pages22
Early online date18/03/22
Original languageEnglish


Infant pointing has long been identified as an important precursor and predictor of language development. Infants typically begin to produce index finger pointing around the time of their first birthday and previous research has shown that both the onset and the frequency of pointing can predict aspects of productive and receptive language. The current study used a multivariate meta-analytic approach to estimate the strength of the relationship between infant pointing and language. We identified 30 papers published between 1984 and 2019 that met our stringent inclusion criteria, and 25 studies (comprising 77 effect sizes) with samples ≥10 were analysed. Methodological quality of the studies was assessed to identify potential sources of bias. We found a significant but small overall effect size of r = 0.20. Our findings indicate that the unique contribution of pointing to language development may be less robust than has been previously understood, however our stringent inclusion criteria (as well as our publication bias corrections), means that our data represent a more conservative estimate of the relationship between pointing and language. Moderator analysis showed significant group differences in favour of effect sizes related to language comprehension, non-vocabulary measures of language, pointing assessed after 18 months of age and pointing measured independent of speech. A significant strength of this study is the use of multivariate meta-analysis, which allowed us to utilise all available data to provide a more accurate estimate. We consider the findings in the context of the existing research and discuss the general limitations in this field, including the lack of cultural diversity.

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© 2022 Elsevier Inc. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the University of York Pump Priming Fund awarded to Elizabeth Kirk, and by the Australian Research Council (CE140100041). We would like to thank Amy Bidgood, Rechele Brooks, Malinda Carpenter, Cristina Colonnesi, Julie Gros-Louis, Alfonso Igualada, Carina Lüke, Eva Murillo Meredith Rowe, and Catherine Tamis-LeMonda for replying to requests for information and for providing us with additional data, explanation or clarification.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Inc.

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