Handling what the other sees: the effects of seeing and being seen on gesture production


Language production is often argued to be adapted to addressees’ needs. As an instance of this, speakers produce fewer speech accompanying hand gestures if the speaker and the addressee cannot see each other. Yet there is also empirical evidence that speakers tend to base their language production on their own perspective, rather than their addressee’s. Therefore, speakers may gesture differently because they do not see their addressee, rather than because their addressee cannot see them. Can speakers truly apply their knowledge of what their addressee sees to their gesture production? We answered this question by carrying out a production experiment in which visibility between speaker and addressee was manipulated asymmetrically. We found that representational gestures were produced more frequently when speakers could be seen by their addressee, rather than when they could see their addressee, suggesting that speakers indeed apply their knowledge of the addressee’s perspective correctly to their gesturing.

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