Gestures can bolster communication, professor finds

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When you want to get a point across, let your mouth and hands do the talking.

That’s the advice from Spencer Kelly, associate professor of psychology, whose recently published research in Psychological Science sheds light on how to communicate more effectively with others.

According to the study, which has been reported by several news outlets including United Press International, matching hand gestures to words enhances communication.

Spencer Kelly’s latest research on gestures and communication was reported on by several media outlets.

“These results have implications for everyday communicative situations, such as educational contexts (teachers and students), persuasive messages (political speeches), and situations of urgency (first aid),” noted Kelly and his research partners, two scientists from the Netherlands.

In the study, volunteers watched brief videos of common actions, such as someone chopping vegetables or washing dishes, followed by a one-second video of a spoken word and a gesture.

In some of the trials (congruent trials), the speech and gestures were related — the word “chop” and a chopping gesture, while during other trials (incongruent trials), what was said did not match the gesture, such as the word “chop” and a twisting gesture.

The volunteers had to indicate whether the speech and gesture were related to the initial video they watched.

The results revealed that the volunteers performed better during congruent trials than incongruent trials. They responded faster and more accurate when the gesture matched the spoken word.

According to the research, when gesture and speech convey the same information, they are easier to understand.

The results also indicate, noted Kelly, that gesture and speech form an integrated system that helps us in language comprehension.

“Only by combining gesture and speech does the full meaning of the message become clear.”