Individual differences in the production of speech-accompanying gestures

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Psychology

Abstract

People spontaneously produce gestures when they speak. Gesture is a robust phenomenon across cultures, the life span, and various communicative contexts. One interesting aspect of speech-accompanying gesture is that there are striking individual differences in how often speakers produce gestures. Some people gesture much more than others.



So far little is known about the sources of these individual differences, and therefore the project will investigate whether gesture frequency can be predicted by measures of individuals' cognitive and social functioning.



On the basis of various proposals about the functions of gestures in speech production and communication, the investigators will use predictors such as memory capacity, efficiency with which speech is produced and the tendency to feel empathy towards others.



The investigators will test participants from broad backgrounds to maximise the variability of the predictors among the participants. The project will explore how well each predictor explains participants' gesture frequency in communication tasks. The project will have a theoretical impact on different research areas, including cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, and social psychology.

Publications


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Description People spontaneously produce gestures when they speak. Some people gesture much more than others. So far little is known about the sources of these individual differences. We investigated how well gesture frequency and saliency in different speech production tasks were predicted by indicators of cognitive and social functioning.



We derived cognitive and social predictor variables on the basis of existing theories about the functions of gestures in speech production and communication. The predictor variables were: (1) indicators of visual-spatial working memory capacity (ie how well one can remember a visually presented pattern); (2) verbal working memory capacity (ie how well one can remember a list of numbers); (3) spatial transformation ability (ie how well one can transform mental imagery); (4) word retrieval efficiency (ie how fast and accurately one can retrieve a word in a picture-naming task); (5) conceptualisation efficiency (ie how efficiently one can decide which information to include in an utterance); (6) empathy ability (ie how well one can recognise and understand the state of mind and emotion of others).



Regression analyses showed that indicators of spatial transformation ability, visual working memory capacity, conceptualisation efficiency, and empathy ability predicted gesture frequency and saliency, whereas indicators of verbal working memory capacity, spatial working memory capacity and lexical retrieval efficiency did not. These results support the view that speakers gesture both to achieve communicative goals and to support their conceptualisation processes. The results also indicated that gesture frequency is a stable trait of individuals.
Exploitation Route As mentioned above, the findings could be useful in future designs for humanoid robots or virtual conversational agents, who will interact with humans and are required to produce naturalistic gestures. As this was a basic science project, we do not expect any immediate economic or societal impact in the near future. However, deeper understanding of individual differences in nonverbal communication may inform future designs for humanoid robots or virtual conversational agents.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education
 
Description The finding from this research was disseminated through the ESRC's press office and picked up by online science media for the general public in 2014. This raised general public's awareness of scientific research on nonverbal behaviour.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Impact Types Cultural
 
Description Further funding for the individual difference study of gesture production
Amount £7,598 (GBP)
Organisation Max Planck Society 
Department Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Sector Public
Country Germany, Federal Republic of
Start 06/2009 
End 11/2011
 
Description Dissemination to participants of the study 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We disseminated how studies on nonverbal behaviour is conducted to 129 participants of the study. Some of the participants are from backgrounds (e.g., students in a vocationally oriented secondary school) that have had and will have limited exposure to scientific studies. Participants of the study got first-hand exposure to how a scientific study is conducted through participating in the study and being debriefed about the purpose of the study. Some of the participants are from backgrounds (e.g., students in a vocationally oriented secondary school) with limited exposure to how scientific studies are conducted.

Participants of the study got first-hand exposure to how a scientific study is conducted through participating in the study and being debriefed about the purpose of the study. Some of the participants are from backgrounds (e.g., students in a vocationally
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Functions of co-speech gestures as probed by individual differences 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research or patient groups
Results and Impact Paper at the 5th ISGS congress at Lund University in Sweden

Section not completed
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.gesturestudies.com/isgs2012/ISGS5_BOA_120718.pdf
 
Description Gesture Cafe by Rachel Attfield 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gesture Café took place in Hackney London, on Saturday the 21st of March 2015. It was run by the Creative Director of Commotion, Rachel Attfield. I gave advice on the scientific contents. We had 22 visitors many of whom stayed for the full 4 hours. Participants learned about gestures and their functions in communication and thinking, through activities designed by me and Rachel Attfield.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.commotionarts.co.uk/gallery/
 
Description Individual differences in gesture production 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact A seminar talk at the School of Health Sciences at the City University London

The talk lead to discussions of possible collaborative research with UCL and other London-based researchers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Individual differences in gesture production 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact A seminar talk at Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (the Netherlands)

The talk lead to discussions of international collaboration with researchers at Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012