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Hand signals

作者:于扔    发布时间:2019-03-08 06:02:11    

By Philip Cohen FROM clapping to finger snapping and obscene gesticulation, when people communicate, they often use their hands to embellish their words. But a new report suggests that these gestures might have less to do with what we say to each other and more to do with what’s happening inside our own heads. “Everywhere you go in the world, no matter what language they speak, people use their hands,” says Jana Iverson of Indiana University in Bloomington. “I’ve always loved to watch those gestures.” So Iverson teamed up with Susan Goldin-Meadow at the University of Chicago to find out why we wave our hands about. One possible explanation is that we imitate the gestures of our parents and community as we learn to speak. The two researchers put this theory to the test with the help of a dozen young people aged 8 to 18, half of them blind from birth. They were simply asked to pour water from a tall, slim glass into a short, flat pie dish. The researchers then asked them if the amount of water had changed during the procedure. The interviews were videotaped. All the children and adolescents replied that the quantity of water had not changed. When the sighted participants put their reasoning into words, they used gestures such as curving their hand into a C shape to represent grasping the cup and varying the distance between their hands to convey the shapes of the containers. But to the researchers’ surprise, the blind people used the same gestures just as often—and in exactly the same way. The blind people couldn’t have seen these gestures, which argued strongly against the imitation theory. So the researchers explored another possibility: that gestures are an audiovisual aid, a way of giving the listener extra details or lending emphasis to your words. For this experiment, they asked four different blind people to repeat the water task and answer the same question—this time speaking to a blind person. All four continued gesturing, even though they knew this wouldn’t help convey their meaning ( Nature, vol 396, p 228). So what purpose do the gestures serve? An experiment the researchers haven’t yet published suggests an answer. They asked people to view a cartoon and then describe it with their hands free or while they were sitting on their hands. Preliminary data suggest that when the subjects are later asked to describe the cartoon, their memories are far clearer if they gesticulated during the original interview. This suggests that gestures are so integral to language they actually facilitate the process that underlies speech. “You are not necessarily trying to help the listener,” says Iverson. “You might be trying to help yourself think.” Elizabeth Bates, a cognitive scientist from the University of California at San Diego, says the work complements imaging studies showing an overlap between language centres, motor control centres and other brain regions. She points out that this isn’t surprising. Humans evolved from apelike creatures without language, so brain areas with other functions were roped in for the new task. “Language was built on top of these systems and, in some sense, is parasitic of them,

 

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