A Cognitive Neuroscience View on Pointing: What is Special About Pointing with the Eyes and Hands?
When interacting with others, we often use bodily signals to communicate. Among these signals, pointing, whether with the eyes or the hands, allows coordinating our attention with others, and the perception of pointing gestures implicates a range of social cognitive processes. Here, we review the brain mechanisms underpinning the perception and understanding of pointing, focusing on eye gaze perception and associated joint attention processes. We consider pointing gesture perception, but leave aside pointing gesture execution as it relates to a distinct area of cognitive neuroscience research. We describe the attention orienting effects of pointing and the neural substrates for the perception of biological cues. We consider the multiple high-level social cognitive processes elicited by pointing gesture perception and examine how pointing gestures are related to the general taxonomy of gestures. We conclude by emphasizing that pointing is a social phenomenon and that a full account of pointing will require an integrative approach taking into account the distinct perspectives from which this phenomenon can be investigated.
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