When gestures catch the eye: The influence of gaze direction on co-speech gesture comprehension in triadic communication


Co-speech gestures are an integral part of human face-to-face communication, but little is known about how pragmatic factors influence our comprehension of those gestures. The present study investigates how different types of recipients process iconic gestures in a triadic communicative situation. Participants (N = 32) took on the role of one of two recipients in a triad and were presented with 160 video clips of an actor speaking, or speaking and gesturing. Crucially, the actor’s eye gaze was manipulated in that she alternated her gaze between the two recipients. Participants thus perceived some messages in the role of addressed recipient and some in the role of unaddressed recipient. In these roles, participants were asked to make judgements concerning the speaker’s messages. Their reaction times showed that unaddressed recipients did comprehend speaker’s gestures differently to addressees. The findings are discussed with respect to automatic and controlled processes involved in gesture comprehension.

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