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The integration of gestures and actions with speech: Should we welcome the empty-handed to language comprehension?


Ozyurek,  Asli
Research Associates, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;


Holler,  Judith
INTERACT, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Kelly, S., Healey, M., Ozyurek, A., & Holler, J. (2014). The integration of gestures and actions with speech: Should we welcome the empty-handed to language comprehension?. Talk presented at the 6th International Society for Gesture Studies Congress. San Diego, California, USA. 2014-07-08 - 2014-07-11.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-87F0-E
Background: Gesture and speech are theorized to form a sin- gle integrated system of meaning during language produc- tion (McNeill, 1992), and evidence is mounting that this in- tegration applies to language comprehension as well (Kelly, Ozyurek & Maris, 2010). However, it is unknown whether gesture is uniquely integrated with speech or is processed like any other manual action. To explore this issue, we compared the extent to which speech is integrated with hand gestures versus actual actions on objects during comprehension. Method: The present study employed a priming paradigm in two experiments. In Experiment 1, subjects watched multi- modal videos that presented auditory (words) and visual (ges- tures and actions on objects) information. Half the subjects related the audio information to a written prime presented be- fore the video, and the other half related the visual informa- tion to the written prime. For half of the multimodal video stimuli, the audio and visual information was congruent, and for the other half, incongruent. The task was to press one but- ton if the written prime was the same as the visual (31 sub- jects) or audio (31 subjects) information in the target video or another button if different. RT and accuracy were recorded. Results: In Experiment 2, we reversed the priming se- quence with a different set of 18 subjects. Now the video became the prime and the written verb followed as the target, but the task was the same with one differenceXto indicate whether the written target was related or unrelated to only the audio information (speech) in preceding video prime. ERPs were recorded to the written targets. In Experiment 1, subjects in both the audio and visual tar- get tasks were less accurate when processing stimuli in which gestures and actions were incongruent versus congruent with speech, F(1, 60) = 22.90, p < .001, but this effect was less prominent for speech-action than for speech-gesture stimuli. However, subjects were more accurate when identifying ac- tions versus gestures, F(1, 60) = 8.03, p = .006. In Experiment 2, there were two early ERP effects. When primed with gesture, incongruent primes produced a larger P1, t (17) = 3.75, p = 0.002, and P2, t (17) = 3.02, p = 0.008, to the target words than the congruent condition in the grand-averaged ERPs (reflecting early perceptual and atten- tional processes). However, there were no significant differ- ences between congruent and incongruent conditions when primed with action. Discussion: The incongruency effect replicates and ex- tends previous work by Kelly et al. (2010) by showing not only a bi-directional influence of gesture and speech, but also of action and speech. In addition, the results show that while actions are easier to process than gestures (Exp. 1), gestures may be more tightly tied to the processing of accompanying speech (Exps. 1 & 2). These results suggest that even though gestures are perceptually less informative than actions, they may be treated as communicatively more informative in rela- tion to the accompanying speech. In this way, the two types of visual information might have different status in language comprehension.