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Handling pain: The semantic interplay of speech and co-speech hand gestures in the description of pain sensations

Rowbotham, S., Holler, J., Lloyd, D., & Wearden, A. (2014). Handling pain: The semantic interplay of speech and co-speech hand gestures in the description of pain sensations. Speech Communication, 57, 244-256. doi:10.1016/j.specom.2013.04.002.
Pain is a private and subjective experience about which effective communication is vital, particularly in medical settings. Speakers often represent information about pain sensation in both speech and co-speech hand gestures simultaneously, but it is not known whether gestures merely replicate spoken information or complement it in some way. We examined the representational contribution of gestures in a range of consecutive analyses. Firstly, we found that 78% of speech units containing pain sensation were accompanied by gestures, with 53% of these gestures representing pain sensation. Secondly, in 43% of these instances, gestures represented pain sensation information that was not contained in speech, contributing additional, complementary information to the pain sensation message. Finally, when applying a specificity analysis, we found that in contrast with research in different domains of talk, gestures did not make the pain sensation information in speech more specific. Rather, they complemented the verbal pain message by representing different aspects of pain sensation, contributing to a fuller representation of pain sensation than speech alone. These findings highlight the importance of gestures in communicating about pain sensation and suggest that this modality provides additional information to supplement and clarify the often ambiguous verbal pain message
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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