Gesture use in social interaction: how speakers’ gestures can reflect listeners’ thinking

Judith Holler, Geoffrey Beattie

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The question as to why we move our hands and arms while we speak has intrigued many researchers in the past, and it still does. However, there has been much debate concerning the cause and function of these spontaneous movements which often represent meaningful information. Some argue that imagistic gestures benefit mainly the speaker, while others argue that they predominantly serve to assist the communication of information to an interlocutor. Two experimental studies are presented in this paper, which examine the influence of social-interactional processes on iconic gestures. The first focuses on the use of gesture in association with speakers’ clarification of verbal (lexical) ambiguity. The second study investigates the influence of common ground on gesture use. The findings obtained from these studies support the notion that social context does influence gesture and that speakers use iconic gestures for their interlocutors, i.e. because they intend to communicate.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • Iconic gestures
  • ambiguity
  • common ground
  • gesture production
  • social interaction


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