While other animals such as apes might engage in gaze following, she said, it appears they are "following the geometry of the head movement but not making inferences. The human difference is we are going down the road to making inferences. Babies go down this road because it is an integral part of their development. We are interested in knowing how this proceeds so we can work with parents and show them when their child can take in other people's points of view."
"Before about 1 year of age, babies either play with objects or they play with people, but they tend to do the two things separately," added Meltzoff. "At about 12 months they begin a form of 'baby multitasking.' They now pay attention to both people and things simultaneously. In fact, they learn that paying attention to a part of you, your eyes, is the key to understanding more about the physical things in the world. Babies look back and forth between your eyes and objects.
"Eyes are a key to learning about the physical world and profiting from other people's experience. By taking cues from others, babies can make good bets about whether certain objects are harmful, distasteful or deeply desirable. Another person's eyes can tell you a lot," he said.
To understand how gaze following develops in infants, the UW researchers set up two experiments involving 96 youngsters in each investigation. There were 32 normally developing infants from each of the three age groups and an equal number of boys and girls. The first experiment was designed to see if infants solely rely on head movements to direct their behavior, as some earlier research has indicated, or if they also read an adult's eyes to see if they were open or closed when the adults turned towards an object. Equal numbers of boys and girls in the study were randomly assigned to eyes open or shut conditions.