The referential problem space revisited: an ecological hypothesis of the evolutionary and developmental origins of pointing

Leavens, David A (2021) The referential problem space revisited: an ecological hypothesis of the evolutionary and developmental origins of pointing. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science. a1554 1-21. ISSN 1939-5078

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Abstract

Pointing by great apes poses a significant challenge to contemporary theories about the evolutionary and developmental foundations of cognitive development, because pointing has long been viewed by theoreticians as an evolved, human‐unique developmental stepping‐stone to linguistic reference. Although reports of pointing by great apes have existed in the scientific literature for over a century, only in recent decades has it become clear that ape pointing is definitely an intentionally communicative signal, by the same criteria we adjudge human pointing to be intentionally communicative. Theoretical responses to this changed empirical landscape have generally taken the approach of asserting, without any direct evidence (indeed, in the absence of any possibility of direct evidence), that pointing by humans is psychologically distinct from and more cognitively complex than the pointing of apes. It is commonplace in the contemporary literature to appeal to imaginary, species‐unique causal factors to account for human pointing, rendering a large body of contemporary theoretical work untestable with scientific methods: scientific arguments require the public availability of core theoretical entities. In this paper, I will analyze the circumstances of pointing by apes and humans and develop an alternative theoretical model of pointing that does not rely upon non‐physical constructs. According to the view espoused, here, pointing develops as a solution to a particular kind of developmental problem, characterized by (a) a developing capacity for tool use, (b) barriers to direct action, and (c) a history of caregiver responsiveness. Pointing by both apes and humans is explicable without invoking imaginary, mental causes.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2021 08:07
Last Modified: 01 Feb 2021 08:30
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/96491

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