Evidence of audience design in amnesia: Adaptation in gesture but not speech

Clough, S., Hilverman, C., Brown-Schmidt, S., & Duff, M. C. (2022). Evidence of audience design in amnesia: Adaptation in gesture but not speech. Brain Sciences, 12(8): 1082. doi:10.3390/brainsci12081082.
Speakers design communication for their audience, providing more information in both speech and gesture when their listener is naive to the topic. We test whether the hippocampal declarative memory system contributes to multimodal audience design. The hippocampus, while traditionally linked to episodic and relational memory, has also been linked to the ability to imagine the mental states of others and use language flexibly. We examined the speech and gesture use of four patients with hippocampal amnesia when describing how to complete everyday tasks (e.g., how to tie a shoe) to an imagined child listener and an adult listener. Although patients with amnesia did not increase their total number of words and instructional steps for the child listener, they did produce representational gestures at significantly higher rates for the imagined child compared to the adult listener. They also gestured at similar frequencies to neurotypical peers, suggesting that hand gesture can be a meaningful communicative resource, even in the case of severe declarative memory impairment. We discuss the contributions of multiple memory systems to multimodal audience design and the potential of gesture to act as a window into the social cognitive processes of individuals with neurologic disorders.
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