Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 73–88 | Cite as

Do Iconic Hand Gestures Really Contribute to the Communication of Semantic Information in a Face-to-Face Context?

  • Judith HollerEmail author
  • Heather Shovelton
  • Geoffrey Beattie
Original Paper


Previous research has shown that iconic gestures are effective at communicating semantic information, particularly about the size and relative position of objects. However, the conclusions of these experiments have been somewhat limited by the fact that the methodology has typically involved presenting gesture–speech samples on video rather than in an actual face-to-face context. Because these different viewing conditions can impact on addressees’ behavior and perception, and therefore potentially impact on the amount of information they receive from gestures, the present study compares the communicative effectiveness of iconic gestures when viewed in a face-to-face context compared to when viewed on video. The results are quite striking in that gestures seemed at least as effective, and in some cases even more effective at communicating position and size information when they occurred in the face-to-face condition compared to video.


Iconic gesture Face-to-face communication Semantic features Size information Relative position information 



We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers, as well as Prof. Judith Hall, for their invaluable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We would also like to thank Lucy Treanor for her assistance in collecting the data, William Newell for his invaluable acting performances, as well as the participants who took part in this investigation. The research was funded through a grant from the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences at the University of Manchester awarded to Judith Holler. During the duration of this study, Geoffrey Beattie and Heather Shovelton were supported by a research grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-1917).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Judith Holler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Heather Shovelton
    • 1
  • Geoffrey Beattie
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Psychological SciencesUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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