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Processing language in face-to-face conversation: Questions with gestures get faster responses

Holler, J., Kendrick, K. H., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). Processing language in face-to-face conversation: Questions with gestures get faster responses. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. Advance online publication. doi:10.3758/s13423-017-1363-z.
The home of human language use is face-to-face interaction, a context in which communicative exchanges are characterised not only by bodily signals accompanying what is being said but also by a pattern of alternating turns at talk. This transition between turns is astonishingly fast—typically a mere 200-ms elapse between a current and a next speaker’s contribution—meaning that comprehending, producing, and coordinating conversational contributions in time is a significant challenge. This begs the question of whether the additional information carried by bodily signals facilitates or hinders language processing in this time-pressured environment. We present analyses of multimodal conversations revealing that bodily signals appear to profoundly influence language processing in interaction: Questions accompanied by gestures lead to shorter turn transition times—that is, to faster responses—than questions without gestures, and responses come earlier when gestures end before compared to after the question turn has ended. These findings hold even after taking into account prosodic patterns and other visual signals, such as gaze. The empirical findings presented here provide a first glimpse of the role of the body in the psycholinguistic processes underpinning human communication
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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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