Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 1–21

How Do We Communicate About Pain? A Systematic Analysis of the Semantic Contribution of Co-speech Gestures in Pain-focused Conversations

  • Samantha Rowbotham
  • Judith Holler
  • Donna Lloyd
  • Alison Wearden
Original Paper


The purpose of the present study was to investigate co-speech gesture use during communication about pain. Speakers described a recent pain experience and the data were analyzed using a ‘semantic feature approach’ to determine the distribution of information across gesture and speech. This analysis revealed that a considerable proportion of pain-focused talk was accompanied by gestures, and that these gestures often contained more information about pain than speech itself. Further, some gestures represented information that was hardly represented in speech at all. Overall, these results suggest that gestures are integral to the communication of pain and need to be attended to if recipients are to obtain a fuller understanding of the pain experience and provide help and support to pain sufferers.


Pain communication Co-speech gestures Semantic feature analysis Gesture–speech interaction 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samantha Rowbotham
    • 1
  • Judith Holler
    • 1
    • 2
  • Donna Lloyd
    • 1
  • Alison Wearden
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Psychological SciencesUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK
  2. 2.Max Planck Institute for PsycholinguisticsNijmegenThe Netherlands

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