Point, walk, talk: Links between three early milestones, from observation and parental report

Abstract

Around their first birthdays, infants begin to point, walk, and talk. These abilities are appreciable both by researchers with strictly standardized criteria and caregivers with more relaxed notions of what each of these skills entails. Here, we compare the onsets of these skills and links among them across two data collection methods: observation and parental report. We examine pointing, walking, and talking in a sample of 44 infants studied longitudinally from 6 to 18 months. In this sample, links between pointing and vocabulary were tighter than those between walking and vocabulary, supporting a unified sociocommunicative growth account. Indeed, across several cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses, pointers had larger vocabularies than their nonpointing peers. In contrast to previous work, this did not hold for walkers’ versus crawlers’ vocabularies in our sample. Comparing across data sources, we find that reported and observed estimates of the growing vocabulary and of age of walk onset were closely correlated, while agreement between parents and researchers on pointing onset and talking onset was weaker. Taken together, these results support a developmental account in which gesture and language are intertwined aspects of early communication and symbolic thinking, whereas the shift from crawling to walking appears indistinct from age in its relation with language. We conclude that pointing, walking, and talking are on similar timelines yet distinct from one another, and discuss methodological and theoretical implications in the context of early development.

Publication
Developmental psychology