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Cognition. 2016 Jan;146:339-348. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2015.10.014. Epub 2015 Nov 9.

What makes a movement a gesture?

Author information

1
The University of Chicago, United States.
#
Contributed equally

Abstract

Theories of how adults interpret the actions of others have focused on the goals and intentions of actors engaged in object-directed actions. Recent research has challenged this assumption, and shown that movements are often interpreted as being for their own sake (Schachner & Carey, 2013). Here we postulate a third interpretation of movement-movement that represents action, but does not literally act on objects in the world. These movements are gestures. In this paper, we describe a framework for predicting when movements are likely to be seen as representations. In Study 1, adults described one of three scenes: (1) an actor moving objects, (2) an actor moving her hands in the presence of objects (but not touching them) or (3) an actor moving her hands in the absence of objects. Participants systematically described the movements as depicting an object-directed action when the actor moved objects, and favored describing the movements as depicting movement for its own sake when the actor produced the same movements in the absence of objects. However, participants favored describing the movements as representations when the actor produced the movements near, but not on, the objects. Study 2 explored two additional features-the form of an actor's hands and the presence of speech-like sounds-to test the effect of context on observers' classification of movement as representational. When movements are seen as representations, they have the power to influence communication, learning, and cognition in ways that movement for its own sake does not. By incorporating representational gesture into our framework for movement analysis, we take an important step towards developing a more cohesive understanding of action-interpretation.

KEYWORDS:

Action-understanding; Gesture; Representational movement

PMID:
26513354
PMCID:
PMC4739648
DOI:
10.1016/j.cognition.2015.10.014
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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