Gesture Comprehension Study

Posted May 10th, 2010 at 10:16 am.

Carolyn Theresa Dahlgren

Dr. Robert Wozniak

I am working with a graduate student, Kristin Kopple, on a research project that is investigating gesture comprehension in young children. We are under the supervision of Professor Robert Wozniak. This research delves into overarching inquiries about child development. The participants for the study are 2½ and 3½ year old children recruited from local schools, daycares, and acquaintances in the suburban and urban area. Parental consent is a required before any experimental sessions. The main questions that we are investigating are: whether children in these age groups comprehend gestures and whether comprehensions differ depending on the type of gesture, specifically Body-Part-as-Object gestures (BPO) or Imagined Object gestures (IO).

Each subject completes a gesture comprehension task that has been designed for this study. The task begins with a spontaneous behavior phase designed to acclimate the subject to the experiment and to introduce him/her to the target and distractor objects used during the experiment. During the course of the experiment, these objects are placed into a cloth-covered, 19’’ x 19’’ Plexiglas cube which has been subdivided into four equal compartments. The child is asked to retrieve an object from one of these chambers. After the spontaneous behavior phase of four trials, the child begins a baseline phase where he/she is asked to retrieve a specific object. During the baseline phase, the subjects are not corrected if they do not retrieve the target object. After the baseline phase, subjects begin either a training phase for a filler task. In the training phase, subjects are asked, through gestures, to retrieve target objects. IO gestures are used for half of the participants, the other half are shown BPO gestures. In the filler task, participants are verbally asked to retrieve these target objects. During both of these phases, the participants are asked to try again when they do not retrieve the target object. After the training or filler tasks, both groups enter the post-test phase where they are asked to retrieve the objects through gesture. Finally, there is then a verbal comprehension check where participants are verbally asked to retrieve the target objects. During the gesture task, we record which objects the participants retrieve. Any spontaneous gesturing, mimicking or verbal labeling is also recorded. The sessions are video tapped to help code the data. In addition to this, we also collect demographic data and, using the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory for Words and Sentences and for Words and Gestures, information about individual language and gesture development to help us analyze our observations.

This study is in its initial phase; we still have to collect most of our data. However, judging from the preliminary data, both groups of children, the 2½ and 3½ year olds, have done poorly on the task. Projected reasons for the inability of the younger groups would be lack of attention span, memory difficulties, and the inability to suppress impulses.

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