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I see how you feel: Speakers’ gestures help people to understand their pain

By S. Rowbotham, J. Holler, A. Wearden and D. Lloyd


Pain is a frequent feature of medical consultations and must be communicated effectively if health care providers are to understand the experience and provide treatment. However, pain is difficult to verbalise and spoken pain descriptions are subject to misinterpretation (Schott, 2004). It is well known that when we speak we also produce co-speech hand ges- tures, and during pain communication these gestures have been found to depict aspects of pain that are not contained in the accompanying speech, such as location, sensation and cause of pain (Rowbotham et al., 2012, 2013a, 2013b). Al- though recipients are known to be able to comprehend the information contained in gestures produced during descrip- tions of concrete entities and events (see Hostetter, 2011 for a review), it is not yet known whether this is the case for sub- jective experiences such as pain. We investigated whether un- trained observers are able to glean any additional information from the gestures that accompany spoken pain descriptions, and whether this can be enhanced through a short instruction session on co-speech gestures. Participants (n = 30 per condi- tion) viewed 20 short video clips (mean length = 7.5 seconds) of pain descriptions under one of three presentation condi- tions: 1) Speech Only, 2) Speech and Gesture, or 3) Speech and Gesture plus Instruction (a short presentation, prior to the video clips, explaining what co-speech gestures are and the types of pain information they can depict). Following each clip, participants provided a free-text description of the pain and a “traceable additions” analysis (Kelly et al., 2002) was used to assess whether participants’ descriptions contained any information that was uniquely contained in gestures in the original clips. Participants who had received instruction in co-speech gestures (Speech and Gesture plus Instruction con- dition) obtained the most information from gestures, while those who did not have access to gestures (Speech Only con- dition) obtained the least. There were no differences in the amount of information obtained from speech across the con- ditions, suggesting that neither having access to gestures nor being instructed to attend to these has any detrimental effect on pain understanding. These results suggest that attending to the speaker’s gestures during pain communication can en- hance the recipients understanding of this subjective experi- ence. These findings have important implications for com- munication in medical settings, suggesting that health care professionals may benefit from training in co-speech gestures in order to improve their understanding of patients’ pain ex- perience

Year: 2014
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Provided by: MPG.PuRe
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