How Do Gestures Influence Thinking and Speaking? The Gesture-for-Conceptualization Hypothesis

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Abstract

People spontaneously produce gestures during speaking and thinking. The authors focus here on gestures that depict or indicate information related to the contents of concurrent speech or thought (i.e., representational gestures). Previous research indicates that such gestures have not only communicative functions, but also self-oriented cognitive functions. In this article, the authors propose a new theoretical framework, the gesture-for-conceptualization hypothesis, which explains the self-oriented functions of representational gestures. According to this framework, representational gestures affect cognitive processes in 4 main ways: gestures activate, manipulate, package, and explore spatio-motoric information for speaking and thinking. These four functions are shaped by gesture’s ability to schematize information, that is, to focus on a small subset of available information that is potentially relevant to the task at hand. The framework is based on the assumption that gestures are generated from the same system that generates practical actions, such as object manipulation; however, gestures are distinct from practical actions in that they represent information. The framework provides a novel, parsimonious, and comprehensive account of the self-oriented functions of gestures. The authors discuss how the framework accounts for gestures that depict abstract or metaphoric content, and they consider implications for the relations between self-oriented and communicative functions of gestures.

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