Do the gestures that speakers produce while talking significantly benefit listeners’ comprehension of the message? This question has been the topic of many research studies over the previous 35 years, and there has been little consensus. The present meta-analysis examined the effect sizes from 63 samples in which listeners’ understanding of a message was compared when speech was presented alone with when speech was presented with gestures. It was found that across samples, gestures do provide a significant, moderate benefit to communication. Furthermore, the magnitude of this effect is moderated by 3 factors. First, effects of gesture differ as a function of gesture topic, such that gestures that depict motor actions are more communicative than those that depict abstract topics. Second, effects of gesture on communication are larger when the gestures are not completely redundant with the accompanying speech; effects are smaller when there is more overlap between the information conveyed in the 2 modalities. Third, the size of the effect of gesture is dependent on the age of the listeners, such that children benefit more from gestures than do adults. Remaining questions for future research are highlighted.
Source: “When do gestures communicate? A meta-analysis.” from Psychological Bulletin, Vol 137(2), Mar 2011, 297-315.
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