When words are not enough, gestures can help get the message across – especially for people with language impairments. An international research team has shown that listeners observe the gestures of people with aphasia more often and for much longer than previously thought. This is important for the use of gestures in speech therapy.
People who suffer from a language impairment due to a brain injury – such as after a stroke, brain injury or brain tumor – often have difficulty communicating with others. Previous studies of aphasia show that these patients often try to express their needs through gestures. It has previously been assumed that conversational partners pay relatively little attention to such nonverbal forms of communication, but this assumption was based on studies involving participants without language impairment.
Communication with gestures
A new study from the University of Zurich, conducted in collaboration with scientists from the Netherlands and Japan, investigated whether gestures attract more attention when verbal communication is hampered by aphasia. The researchers showed healthy volunteers videos in which people with and without speech impairments described an accident and a shopping experience. As the participants watched the video clips, their eye movements were recorded.
The focus of attention shifts
“Our results show that when people have very severe speech difficulties and have less informative language, their interlocutor is more likely to pay attention to their hand movements and look longer at their gestures,” says Basil Preisig from the Department of Comparative linguistics. with ultrasound. In people who do not have limitations in speech production, hand gestures are given less attention. Thus, it appears that listeners shift their attention when the speaker is lacking in speech and focus more on the speaker’s nonverbal information conveyed through gestures. “For people with aphasia, it may be worth using more gestures to be understood better by the other person,” says Preisig.
Using gestures as a specific tool in therapy
This study not only shows the importance of gestures in communication, but also reinforces their importance in speech rehabilitation. “Persons with aphasia should be encouraged to use all available forms of communication in therapy. This includes more active use of gestures. In addition, their family and friends should learn about hand gestures to improve communication,” says Preisig.