Patients with hippocampal amnesia successfully integrate gesture and speech

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Abstract

During conversation, people integrate information from co-speech hand gestures with information in spoken language. For example, after hearing the sentence, “A piece of the log flew up and hit Carl in the face” while viewing a gesture directed at the nose, people tend to later report that the log hit Carl in the nose (information only in gesture) rather than in the face (information in speech). The cognitive and neural mechanisms that support the integration of gesture with speech are unclear. One possibility is that the hippocampus – known for its role in relational memory and information integration – is necessary for integrating gesture and speech. To test this possibility, we examined how patients with hippocampal amnesia and healthy and brain-damaged comparison participants express information from gesture in a narrative retelling task. Participants watched videos of an experimenter telling narratives that included hand gestures that contained supplementary information. Participants were asked to retell the narratives and their spoken retellings were assessed for the presence of information from gesture. For features that had been accompanied by supplementary gesture, patients with amnesia retold fewer of these features overall and fewer retellings that matched the speech from the narrative. Yet their retellings included features that contained information that had been present uniquely in gesture in amounts that were not reliably different from comparison groups. Thus, a functioning hippocampus is not necessary for gesture-speech integration over short timescales. Providing unique information in gesture may enhance communication for individuals with declarative memory impairment, possibly via non-declarative memory mechanisms.

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