The tendency to supplement communication with motion is universal, though the nuances of delivery vary slightly. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, people point with their noses and heads, while in Laos they sometimes use their lips. In Ghana, left-handed pointing can be taboo, while in Greece or Turkey forming a ring with your index finger and thumb to indicate everything is A-OK could get you in trouble.
Despite their variety, gestures can be loosely defined as movements used to reiterate or emphasize a message — whether that message is explicitly spoken or not. A gesture is a movement that “represents action,” but it can also convey abstract or metaphorical information. It is a tool we carry from a very young age, if not from birth; even children who are congenitally blind naturally gesture to some degree during speech. Everybody does it. And yet, few of us have stopped to give much thought to gesturing as a phenomenon — the neurobiology of it, its development, and its role in helping us understand others’ actions. As researchers delve further into our neural wiring, it’s becoming increasingly clear that gestures guide our perceptions just as perceptions guide our actions. [Continue reading…]