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Am J Psychol. 2001 Winter;114(4):591-600.

Gestures maintain spatial imagery.

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Department of Psychology, East Stroudsburg University, 200 Prospect Street, East Stroudsburg, PA 18301, USA.


Recent theories suggest alternatives to the commonly held belief that the sole role of gestures is to communicate meaning directly to listeners. Evidence suggests that gestures may serve a cognitive function for speakers, possibly acting as lexical primes. We observed that participants gestured more often when describing a picture from memory than when the picture was present and that gestures were not influenced by manipulating eye contact of a listener. We argue that spatial imagery serves a short-term memory function during lexical search and that gestures may help maintain spatial images. When spatial imagery is not necessary, as in conditions of direct visual stimulation, reliance on gestures is reduced or eliminated.

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