Do ostensive cues affect object processing in children with and without autism? A test of natural pedagogy theory

  • Tobias SchuwerkEmail author
  • Johannes Bätz
  • Birgit Träuble
  • Beate Sodian
  • Markus Paulus
Original Article


Theories suggest that the perception of others’ actions and social cues leads to selective processing of object features. Most recently, natural pedagogy theory postulated that ostensive cues lead to a selective processing of an object’s features at the expense of processing of its location. This study examined this hypothesis in 10-year-old children with and without autism spectrum condition (ASC) to better understand social information processing in ASC and the relevance of observing others in human object processing in general. Participants saw an agent either ostensively pointing to an object or non-ostensively grasping an object. Thereafter, the cued or uncued object changed either its location or identity. We assessed not only behavioral responses, but also participants’ gaze behavior by means of eye tracking. In contrast to natural pedagogy theory, we found that in the non-ostensive grasping context, participants rather noticed an identity change than a location change. Moreover, location changes were more readily identified in the ostensive pointing context. Importantly, there was no difference between children with and without ASC. Our study shows that the perception of ostensively vs. non-ostensively framed actions leads to different processing of object features, indicating a close link between action perception, object processing, and social cues. Moreover, the lacking group difference in our study suggests that these basic perception–action processes are not impaired in autism.



This study was funded by a grant from VolkswagenStiftung. We thank all children and their families for participating in this study. Furthermore, we are grateful to Tabea Schädel, Veronika Eisenschmid, Verena Rampeltshammer, and Teresa Wenhart for their help in data acquisition. We thank Martin Sobanski (Heckscher-Klinikum gGmbH) and Martina Schabert (autkom) for their help with recruiting participants.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLudwig-Maximilians-UniversityMunichGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CologneCologneGermany

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