Creating a communication system from scratch: Gesture beats vocalization hands down

Nicolas Fay, C.J. Lister, Mark Ellison, S. Goldin-Meadow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


How does modality affect people's ability to create a communication system from scratch? The present study experimentally tests this question by having pairs of participants communicate a range of pre-specified items (emotions, actions, objects) over a series of trials to a partner using either non-linguistic vocalization, gesture or a combination of the two. Gesture-alone outperformed vocalization-alone, both in terms of successful communication and in terms of the creation of an inventory of sign-meaning mappings shared within a dyad (i.e., sign alignment). Combining vocalization with gesture did not improve performance beyond gesture-alone. In fact, for action items, gesture-alone was a more successful means of communication than the combined modalities. When people do not share a system for communication they can quickly create one, and gesture is the best means of doing so. © 2014 Fay, Lister, Ellison and Goldin-Meadow.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12pp
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAPR
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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