The communicative advantage: How kinematic signaling supports semantic comprehension

Trujillo, J. P., Simanova, I., Bekkering, H., & Ozyurek, A. (2020). The communicative advantage: How kinematic signaling supports semantic comprehension. Psychological Research, 84, 1897-1911. doi:10.1007/s00426-019-01198-y.
Humans are unique in their ability to communicate information through representational gestures which visually simulate an action (eg. moving hands as if opening a jar). Previous research indicates that the intention to communicate modulates the kinematics (e.g., velocity, size) of such gestures. If and how this modulation influences addressees’ comprehension of gestures have not been investigated. Here we ask whether communicative kinematic modulation enhances semantic comprehension (i.e., identification) of gestures. We additionally investigate whether any comprehension advantage is due to enhanced early identification or late identification. Participants (n = 20) watched videos of representational gestures produced in a more- (n = 60) or less-communicative (n = 60) context and performed a forced-choice recognition task. We tested the isolated role of kinematics by removing visibility of actor’s faces in Experiment I, and by reducing the stimuli to stick-light figures in Experiment II. Three video lengths were used to disentangle early identification from late identification. Accuracy and response time quantified main effects. Kinematic modulation was tested for correlations with task performance. We found higher gesture identification performance in more- compared to less-communicative gestures. However, early identification was only enhanced within a full visual context, while late identification occurred even when viewing isolated kinematics. Additionally, temporally segmented acts with more post-stroke holds were associated with higher accuracy. Our results demonstrate that communicative signaling, interacting with other visual cues, generally supports gesture identification, while kinematic modulation specifically enhances late identification in the absence of other cues. Results provide insights into mutual understanding processes as well as creating artificial communicative agents.
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