Handedness for grasping objects and pointing and the development of language in 14-month-old infants
The goal of this study was to evaluate the relationship between object-related handedness and handedness for communicative gestures. We observed 22 infants aged 14 months on a baby laterality test consisting of grasping objects in different conditions, on a pointing task with targets placed out of reach at different spatial positions from left to right, and on word understanding and word production. Results show that 77% of infants pointed to the left, middle, and right targets. The majority of infants were right-handed for pointing—except for the far left target—and, to a lesser extent, for grasping objects, but there was no significant relation between the two measures of handedness. The frequency of pointing tended to be related to the number of words understood, and infants right-handed for pointing understood and produced significantly more words than non-right-handed pointers. These results are interpreted as confirming the link between pointing and language development, and as showing that communicative gesture lateralisation is not a mere consequence of object-related handedness, at least during development. Whether lateralised communicative gesture reinforces a pre-existing tendency to use the right hand to interact with objects remains an open question.
ABSTRACT—Recent findings in neuroscience challenge the view that the motor system is exclusively dedicated to the control of actions, and it has been suggested that it may contribute critically to conceptual processes such as those involved in language and number representation. The aim of this review is to address this issue by illustrating some interactions between the motor system and the processing of words and numbers. First, we detail functional brain imaging studies suggesting that motor circuits may be recruited to represent the meaning of action-related words. Second, we summarize a series of experiments demonstrating some interference between the size of grip used to grasp objects and the magnitude processing of words or numbers. Third, we report data suggestive of a common representation of numbers and finger movements in the adult brain, a possible trace of the finger-counting strategies used in childhood. Altogether, these studies indicate that the motor system interacts with several aspects of word and number representations. Future research should determine whether these findings reflect a causal role of the motor system in the organization of semantic knowledge.