Why study gesture?

If you watch people talking, you'll notice that much of the time they are also moving their hands and arms around, or gesturing. Why do people do this? What's the connection between such gestures and spoken languages? What are the similarities and differences between such gestures and the signs of sign languages? What can studying these gestures tell us about the human mind? These are the basic questions we study in the Gesture and Cognition Lab!

 

Gesture research is at the heart of cognitive science

In recent years, interest in what gestures can reveal about thinking has exploded. Gesture research is at the very heart of contemporary cognitive science. Gestures seem to be part of the language system (linguistics). They are a window onto human mental representations (cognitive psychology) and part of the development of many skills, including social cognition / theory of mind (developmental psychology). Gestures influence our feelings about other people (social psychology). While gesture is universal in human cultures, our closest primate relatives (chimpanzees) may not gesture at all (comparative / evolutionary biology). Producing and understanding gestures recruits some of the same parts of the brain as language (neuroscience). Some vary across cultures, while some are universal (anthropology). They are critical in human-computer interaction (computer science / artificial intelligence). They share features with other expressive behaviors like music and dance (the arts). In other words: in studying gesture, we're studying nearly every aspect of human cognition.

 

 

Gesture & Cognition Lab | Crawford 604A | Phone: 216.368.1246 | parrilllabATgmailDOTcom