A new study found that words are more accurately heard when accompanied by hand gestures.
- A team of researchers from the Netherlands found that hands gestures, when used strategically, influence how certain words are heard.
- Participants were 20% more likely to hear and interpret the words being spoken when accompanied by a matching hand gesture, and 40% as likely to hear the wrong word when the gestures did not match.
- Previous research has suggested that certain hand gestures can signal extraversion and dominance, and that speaking with gestures in general tends to lead to being evaluated as warm, agreeable, and energetic.
It's true that politicians, orators, business executives, and other types of leaders tend to be fond of speaking with their hands, but does the habit actually have influence over how others interpret those words? A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Radboud University, and TiCC Tilburg University—all located in the Netherlands—sought to find out.
In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the group detailed a series of experiments on volunteers who viewed videos of people speaking with and without hand motions. They found that hand gestures, when done right, do influence how certain words are heard.
After showing the participants the videos of people speaking under different conditions, the researchers asked them questions about what they had heard. Those conditions involved the speaker emphasizing different parts of words in a sentence (e.g. OBject versus obJECT). Other conditions involved the speaker making various types of hand gestures. For example, chopping, pointing, or sweeping motions made with the hands and arms. Sometimes those hand motions coincided with sections of words being stressed, but sometimes they were random.
The team recorded the volunteers as they viewed the video recordings, questioning the participants afterward about what they had seen and heard. They found that the participants were more impacted by syllables spoken in conjunction with hand gestures: In 20 percent of the cases the viewer was more likely to have heard and interpreted the word being spoken when accompanied by a hand gesture. Interestingly, however, participants were 40 percent more likely to hear the wrong sound when a mismatch between the word spoken and the hand gesture occurred.
Perception of character
In addition to making your words more clear, past research has found that speaking with your hands really can alter the perception of your character. Markus Koppensteiner at the University of Vienna has analyzed the way that people talk with their hands and how the speaker is perceived. His research has suggested that certain hand gestures can signal extraversion and dominance.
For example, extraversion appeared to be associated with more hand movements overall. Vertical movements, meanwhile, seemed to be linked to the perception of authority. For example, hands sweeping up from torso to shoulder height. People making these expansive gestures with their arms tend to be rated lower in agreeableness, but higher in domination. This was, according to Koppensteiner, a consistent result in his papers.
According to body language expert Carol Goman, Ph.D., "Studies have found that people who communicate through active gesturing tend to be evaluated as warm, agreeable, and energetic, while those who remain still (or whose gestures seem mechanical or "wooden") are seen as logical, cold, and analytic." In fact, a 2015 study that analyzed TED Talks found that the most popular, viral speakers used nearly twice as many as the least popular speakers used.
The Dutch research team of this recent study suggests that their findings imply that hand gestures are an important part of in-person communications that have a direct impact on what the listener actually hears. Furthermore, they suggest that our responses to hand gestures used by someone speaking to us may be something that we learn as we grow up. Or, as they also note, it's equally plausible that there is an evolutionary reason for our enhanced responses to hand-talking rather than a learned behavior.
Although these experiments were conducted with only Dutch speakers, the team believes that it's likely they would have found the same results with other languages.
As morally sturdy as we may feel, it turns out that humans are natural hypocrites when it comes to passing moral judgment.
- The problem with having a compass as the symbolic representation of morality is that due north is not a fixed point. Liane Young, Boston College associate professor and director of the Morality Lab, explains how context, bias, and tribal affiliation influence us enormously when we pass moral judgments.
- Moral instinct is tainted by cognitive bias. Humans evolved to be more lenient to their in-groups—for example excusing a beloved politician who lines their pockets while lambasting a colleague for the exact same transgression—and to care more about harm done close to them than harm done farther away, for example, to people in another country.
- The challenge for humans in a globalized and polarized world is to become aware of our moral biases and learn to apply morality more objectively. How can we be more rational and less hypocritical about our morals? "I think that clarifying the value that you are consulting for a particular problem is really critical," says Young.
Scientists ripped up kids' drawings. This is what they learned about relationships.
- Forgiveness as a cultural act linked to religion and philosophy dates back centuries, but studies focused on the science of apologies, morality, and relationships are fairly new. As Amrisha Vaish explains, causing harm, showing remorse, and feeling concern for others are things children pay attention to, even in their first year of life.
- In a series of experiments, adults ripped children's artworks and either showed remorse or showed neutrality. They found that remorse really mattered. "Here we see what [the kids] really care about is that the transgressor shows their commitment to them, to the relationship," Vaish says. "And they will seek that person out over even an in-group member."
- As a highly social species, cooperation is vital to humans. Learning what factors make or break those social bonds can help communities, teams, and partners work together to meet challenges and survive.
Monogamy is often considered a key component of traditional marriages, but it's only half the story.
- Depending on who you ask, monogamy is either essential to a successful marriage or it is unrealistic and sets couples up for failure.
- In this video, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, psychologist Chris Ryan, former Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman, and psychotherapist Esther Perel discuss the science and culture of monogamy, the role it plays in making or breaking relationships, and whether or not humans evolved to have one partner at a time.
- "The bottom line is, for millions of years, there were some reproductive payoffs not only to forming a pair bond but also to adultery," says Fisher, "leaving each one of us with a tremendous drive to fall in love and pair up, but also some susceptibility to cheating on the side."
We make school kids read "Lord of the Flies"—but it's only half the story.
- The iconic novel "Lord of the Flies" paints a picture of human beings as naturally selfish and prone to conflict, but that is not the most accurate depiction of humanity, argues historian Rutger Bregman.
- Bregman shares a true story from his research about a group of Tongan students who survived on an island together for 15 months in 1965, not through brutal alliances, but by working together and forming a functional community.
- Darwin's observation of domestication syndrome is apparent in humans, argues Bregman; our evolution into friendlier animals can be seen in our biological features and responses. Evolutionarily speaking, being "soft" is actually very smart, and we evolved to cooperate with one another for mutual gain.