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Do gestures retain mental associations with their iconic origins, even after they become emblematic? An analysis of the middle-finger gesture among American English speakers

By Benjamin K. Bergen (6650759)


<div><p>What concepts and words do communicative gestures activate in the minds of people who view them? It’s widely believed that many gestures grow from <i>iconic</i> origins—they look like what they mean—but also that at some point they may become <i>emblematic—</i>conventionalized as culturally agreed-upon symbols. How long do links between physical movements of the body and the things in the world they denote persist in the minds of gesture-users? A pair of experiments asks this question for the Middle-Finger, a cross-culturally recognized obscene gesture. The prevailing view is that the gesture originates in a phallic symbol. Yet it is now predominantly used as an emblematic gesture displaying contempt (among other things). It is currently unknown whether the iconic origins of gestures persist through the emblematic stage in the minds of gesture users. Two experiments tested the hypothesis that viewing the Middle-Finger primes thoughts about penises or the word <i>penis</i>. The results showed that the Middle-Finger induced no priming of <i>penis</i> compared with control, unlike another obscene penis-representing gesture (Finger-Bang), which did. This suggests that the Middle-Finger no longer activates thoughts of penises in the minds of contemporary American English speakers. Emblematic gestures with iconic origins may undergo historical change not just in the functions they serve but also in the effects they have on the minds of people who use them.</p></div

Topics: Physiology, Sociology, Mental Health, Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified, Biological Sciences not elsewhere classified, Middle-Finger primes thoughts, iconic origins, American English speakers, gesture
Year: 2019
DOI identifier: 10.1371/journal.pone.0215633
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Provided by: FigShare
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