, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 610-615

Movement and lexical access: Do noniconic gestures aid in retrieval?


The production of meaningful gestures has been claimed to enhance lexical access. However, the possibility that meaningless movements also improve retrieval has been largely ignored despite evidence that all types of movements increase with dysfluency. To examine this issue, we conducted two experiments to determine whether movements in general would improve lexical access in a tip–of–thetongue (TOT) paradigm. TOT states were induced by presenting definitions of rare words that participants were then asked to recall. Participants who were required to tap at their own pace while retrieving words obtained significantly higher resolution rates than those who were immobile. Thus, movement does not have to be semantically related to the lexical item in order to aid in retrieval. However, tapping did not improve lexical access in all retrieval tasks. In a lexical retrieval task that relied more on executive abilities (letter fluency), participants who tapped retrieved fewer words than those who were immobile. The fact that movement enhanced lexical access only when retrieval depended on the automatic spread of activation suggests that facilitation may occur because of the activation of neural areas common to both speech and movement.

This research was supported by Grants NS 30256 and NS 17778 from the National Institute of Health. The research formed part of the author’s PhD dissertation.