City Research Online

The use of gestures in the conversations of people with aphasia

Kistner, J. (2017). The use of gestures in the conversations of people with aphasia. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Background: Gestures are spontaneous hand and arm movements that frequently accompany speech and play an important role in everyday communication. When communication is impaired by aphasia, gestures are affected as well. It is important to find out how people with aphasia (PWA) use gesture as an accompaniment to speech, as a compensatory modality, and during lexical retrieval. This novel study examined the use and functions of gesture in conversation and investigated parameters (i.e., conversation partner, topic, and participant factors) that could have an influence on gesture production.

Methodology: Language and conversation data of 20 PWA and 21 neurologically healthy participants (NHP) were collected. Participants took part in conversations with two conversation partners (familiar and unfamiliar) and two conversation topics (narrative and procedural). Video samples were analysed for gesture production, speech production, and word-finding difficulties (WFD).

Results: The two groups of participants produced a similar number of gestures (t (37) = -1.060, p = .296). Gesture type was not examined statistically but showed some marginal differences between groups. Unfamiliar conversation partners elicited significantly more gestures than familiar conversation partners (F (1, 37) = 24.358, p < .001). Additionally, participants produced significantly more gestures in procedural than in narrative topics (F (1, 37) =44.807, p < .001). While all participants experienced a similar number of WFD, there was a difference between PWA and NHP regarding gesture production and resolution of WFD: NHP resolved the majority of all WFD, independent of a co-occurring gesture. Nevertheless, for PWA and NHP, there was a significant relationship between gesture production and the resolution of the WFD (X2 (1) = 12.356, p < .01 for PWA and X2 (1) = 40.657, p < .01 for NHP), indicating that WFD that occurred with gestures were more likely to be resolved than WFD that occurred without gesture production. Participants used gestures with different functions, such as facilitative gestures to resolve WFD or augmentative gestures to supplement speech. For PWA, different participant factures, such as fluency of speech (rs (17) = .487, p = .035), lexical production skills (rs (17) = .584, p = .009), and cognition (rs (17) = .582, p = .009) were linked to gesture production.

Conclusions: These findings shed light on gesture processing and the different functions gestures can serve within conversation. Furthermore, they highlight the importance of pragmatic influence, such as conversation topic and conversation partner on the production of gestures. The significant relationships between participant factors and gesture production in aphasia extend the understanding of relevant skills needed to successfully employ gestures in conversation. Next to language skills, such as speech fluency and lexical retrieval, cognitive skills affected gesture production as well.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
Text - Accepted Version
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