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Talk from the hand: the role of gesture in verbal communication

handAnother reason to revitalize commedia dell'arte: Gestures help us decipher meaning in communication. Okay, I might have made a leap from one Italian study's conclusions, and the research could have broader implications, but the 16th century multiform theater genre incorporating pantomime to distinguish characters and advance plot came to my mind first.

For the recent study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, scientists conducted two experiments examining how spontaneous gestures that accompany speech carry information that conveys meaning, like intonation and rhythm of oral language. The International School of Advanced Studies researchers found that the sight of gestures combined with the sound of speech created a whole-body system of communication in which movement played an important role in helping listeners understand language that was unclear either because its sounds were unintelligible or the sentence could have more than one possible meaning. Twenty Italian speakers participated.

The authors write in the study:

Our results demonstrate that the prosody that characterizes speech is not a modality specific phenomenon: it is also perceived in the spontaneous gestures that accompany speech. We draw the conclusion that spontaneous gestures and speech form a single communication system where the suprasegmental aspects of spoken language are mapped to the motor-programs responsible for the production of both speech sounds and hand gestures.

“In human communication, voice is not sufficient: even the torso and in particular hand movements are involved, as are facial expressions,” said study author Marina Nespor, PhD, in a release.

Previously: Abstract gestures help children absorb math lessons, study finds
Photo by Eddi 07 - free stock

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