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Non-Verbal Behaviour

University of Warwick

Department of Psychology 2019/20

Module Code:


Module Name:

Non-Verbal Behaviour

Module Credits (CATS):


Module Convener

Sotaro Kita

Module Teachers

Module Aims

The focus of this course is on gestures that spontaneously accompany speech. 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 practical reports (11% each), 2 hour unseen exam

Module Work Load

Module Length

11 weeks


One lecture per week


One seminar per week (7 weeks)


Attendance at both lectures and seminars is compulsory

Module Assessment

Assessed Work: Practical report


Assessed Work: Practical report


Assessed Work: Practical report


Exam: 2 hour unseen exam


Module Programme

  1. Introduction to gesture
  2. Self-oriented (cognitive) functions of gestures
  3. Communicative functions of gestures
  4. Gesture and culture
  5. Development of gesture in children I
  6. Development of gesture in children II
  7. Gesturing by non-human primates
  8. Brain and gesture
  9. Gestural communication without speech (e.g., a deaf child in a hearing family)
  10. Gesture in developmental disorder of communication (e.g., autism)

Module Reading List

There are no textbooks. A reading list will be supplied for each of the lecture/seminars which will include references to texts and journal articles. Students are expected to make wide use of primary sources, available from journals in the Library. The following are representative readings.

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.

Iverson, J. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (1998). Why people gesture when they speak. Nature, 396, p.228.

Rauscher, F. H., Krauss, R. M., & Chen, Y. (1996). Gesture, speech, and lexical access: The role of lexical movements in speech production. Psychological Science, 7, 226-231.

Povinelli, D. J., Bering, J.M., & Giambrone, S. (2003). Chimpanzees' "Pointing": Another error of the argument by analogy. In S. Kita (Ed.), Pointing: Where language, culture, and cognition meet (pp.35-68). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kita, S., & Essegbey, J. (2001). Pointing left in Ghana: How a taboo on the use of the left hand influences gestural practice. Gesture, 1, 73-94.

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

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

Willems, R. M., Özyürek, A., & Hagoort, P. (2007). When language meets action: The neural integration of gesture and speech. Cerebral Cortex, 17, 2322-2333.