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The role of gesture in memory andsocial communicationRuth Breckinridge Church, Philip Garber, andKathryn RogalskiNortheastern Illinois University / National-Louis University /College of Lake CountyThis study asked whether: (1) adults process representational gesture and (2)gesture is remembered over time. Forty-five college students (ages 22–38) wereeach randomly assigned to watch a set of Speech Only and Speech + Gesturevideo stimuli (containing statements that were extracted from social conversa-tion) either in an immediate or delayed condition. After watching the video-tape, participants were asked to write recollections of the video stimuli eitherimmediately after watching the videotape or thirty minutes later. We found thatgesture was processed along with speech and that unlike speech, it was less likelyto deteriorate over time. Moreover, speech stimuli that were accompanied bygesture were significantly more likely to be recalled than speech stimuli occur-ring without gesture. These results suggest that gesture is processed by adultsalong with speech during communication and that gesture might have a differentstatus in memory than speech.Keywords:gesture, memory, communicationIntroductionNonverbal communicationResearch on nonverbal communication describes a variety of different types ofbehavior. For example, when we think of nonverbal communication, we may thinkof affective displays such as smiles and grimaces that reflect an emotion or feeling(e.g., Ekman & Friesen, 1974; Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967). Research however, hasalso demonstrated that nonverbal communication can convey conceptual infor-mation. That is, gestures can be used to transmit imagistic information related tothe speech it accompanies. Conceptual information can be expressed through whatGesture7:2 (2007),37–58.issn 1568–1475 / e-issn 1569–9773 © John Benjamins Publishing Company
38Ruth Breckinridge Church, Philip Garber, and Kathryn Rogalskiis called “representational gesture” (Boyatzis & Watson, 1993; Goldin-Meadow,Alibali, & Church, 1993; McNeill, 1992). We use the term “representational ges-ture” to refer to those gestures that use iconic imagery to express informationabout people, objects and events (see McNeill, 1992, for a description of repre-sentational gesture). For example, representational gesture can depict informationabout object attributes (e.g., making a large, circular gesture while saying, “It was abig, round one”) or depict information about actions and events (e.g., holding thehand as if to throw a football while saying, “Let’s throw the football.”).Representational gestures are idiosyncratic because their form and meaningare created by and derived from the speaker’s own unique conceptions and are notpart of an arbitrary language system (McNeill, 1992). The imagistic nature of rep-resentational gestures makes them particularly useful for assessment of individualthinking patterns (Church, 1999). In addition, their iconicity makes them easilyunderstood across individuals (Ekman & Friesen, 1969; McNeill, 1992).

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