The Preference for Pointing With the Hand Is Not Universal
Pointing is a cornerstone of human communication, but does it take the same form in all cultures? Manual pointing with the index finger appears to be used universally, and it is often assumed to be universally preferred over other forms. Non-manual pointing with the head and face has also been widely attested, but it is usually considered of marginal significance, both empirically and theoretically. Here, we challenge this assumed marginality. Using a novel communication task, we investigated pointing preferences in the Yupno of Papua New Guinea and in U.S. undergraduates. Speakers in both groups pointed at similar rates, but form preferences differed starkly: The Yupno participants used non-manual pointing (nose- and head-pointing) numerically more often than manual pointing, whereas the U.S. participants stuck unwaveringly to index-finger pointing. The findings raise questions about why groups differ in their pointing preferences and, more broadly, about why humans communicate in the ways they do.