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Non-Verbal Behaviour

University of Warwick

Department of Psychology 2021/22

Module Code:


Module Name:

Nonverbal Behaviour

Module Credits (CATS):


Module Convener

Sotaro Kita

Module Teachers


Module Aims

The course will cover a wide range of theoretical issues. Thus, students will be expected to read extensively in a wide range of disciplines, including developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, primatology, neuroscience and anthropology. The course will cover the following general theoretical questions. The first question is how inter- and intra-personal factors shape gestural behaviours. The interplay between the two types of factors explains, for example, the puzzle of why people produce gestures in situations where the addressee cannot see the gestures (e.g., in telephone conversation). The second question is what aspects of gestures are universal and culture specific. The third question is how gestures emerge in the course of development. The fourth question is how gestures of humans and non-human primates differ from each other. The fifth question is how the brain processes gesture and speech. The sixth question is how gestures are used adaptively in populations that cannot readily use speech to communicate.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • concisely describe empirical facts regarding gestural communication, and critically evaluate how these facts contributes to theories

  • flexibly apply theories to new empirical results

  • discuss how gestural communication differ (or is similar) between adults and children, between humans and non-human primates, and among various disorder groups, in terms of empirical facts and theories,

  • conduct basic observational studies on gestural communication and effectively report the results

Assessed by:

3 x Practical reports & exam

Module Work Load

Module Length

11 Weeks


One lecture per week


One seminar or practical workshop per week (9 weeks)


Attendance at lectures and seminars is compulsory

Module Assessment

Assessed work:

Practical Report 1

Practical Report 2

Practical Report 3







Module Programme

Introduction to gesture

Self-oriented (cognitive) functions of gestures

Communicative functions of gestures

Gesture and culture

Development of gesture in children I

Development of gesture in children II

Gesturing by non-human primates

Brain and gesture

Gestural communication without speech (e.g., a deaf child in a hearing family)

Gesture in developmental disorder of communication (e.g., autism)

Module Reading List

Representative papers to be covered in the module includes

Church, R. B., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (1986). The mismatch between gesture and speech as an index of transitional knowledge. Cognition(23), 43-71.

Iverson, J. M., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2005). Gesture paves the way for language development. Psychological Science, 16(5), 367-371.

Kita, S., & Özyürek, A. (2003). What does cross-linguistic variation in semantic coordination of speech and gesture reveal?: Evidence for an interface representation of spatial thinking and speaking. Journal of Memory and Language, 48, 16-32.

Senghas, A., Kita, S., & Özyürek, A. (2004). Children creating core properties of language: Evidence from an emerging sign language in Nicaragua. Science, 305, 1779-1782.

Xu, J., Gannon, P. J., Emmorey, K., Smith, J. F., & Braun, A. R. (2009). Symbolic gestures and spoken language are processed by a common neural system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(49), 20664-20669..