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Understanding gestures helps streamline communication

When we talk, we often animate our words with gestures: nodding our heads, motioning with our hands, shrugging, or pointing. These gestures are part of the way we interact with people and communicate. But according to new research from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University, using gestures can streamline communication and allow your message to get across quicker.

According to Spencer Kelly, an associate professor at Colgate University, there are two groups of gestures. Co-Speech gestures help us communicate and sometimes animate our speech sometimes when we don’t even realize it. Emblematic gestures, on the other hand, are better suited to display emotions and have more of a social and cultural context.

The new research has found that gestures may actually help out the psycholinguistic process, and by receiving visual cues, we can better process what another person is trying to convey.

Visual cues and gestures can also alert us to the end of a conversation or sentence so that we know it is our turn to respond.

Moreover, gestures that end early can get questions answered more quickly.

A study was conducted by filming seven different groups of three participants talking. The participants were filmed with high definition cameras and were left alone to talk for twenty minutes.

The sessions were then played back for the researchers, who observed speech patterns, gestures and focused primarily on question-response sequences.

The researchers found that most questions were accompanied with visual cues or gestures which both alerted the other speakers that it would soon be their turn to answer, and provided context for the question being asked.

“Questions accompanied by gestures lead to shorter turn transition times—that is, to faster responses—than questions without gestures, and responses come even earlier when gestures end before compared to after the question turn has ended,” said Judith Holler, lead researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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