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The role of beat gesture and pitch accent in semantic processing: An ERP study

Wang, L., & Chu, M. (2013). The role of beat gesture and pitch accent in semantic processing: An ERP study. Neuropsychologia, 51(13), 2847-2855. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.09.027.
The present study investigated whether and how beat gesture (small baton-like hand movements used to emphasize information in speech) influences semantic processing as well as its interaction with pitch accent during speech comprehension. Event-related potentials were recorded as participants watched videos of a person gesturing and speaking simultaneously. The critical words in the spoken sentences were accompanied by a beat gesture, a control hand movement, or no hand movement, and were expressed either with or without pitch accent. We found that both beat gesture and control hand movement induced smaller negativities in the N400 time window than when no hand movement was presented. The reduced N400s indicate that both beat gesture and control movement facilitated the semantic integration of the critical word into the sentence context. In addition, the words accompanied by beat gesture elicited smaller negativities in the N400 time window than those accompanied by control hand movement over right posterior electrodes, suggesting that beat gesture has a unique role for enhancing semantic processing during speech comprehension. Finally, no interaction was observed between beat gesture and pitch accent, indicating that they affect semantic processing independently.
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