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Beyond words: evidence for automatic language–gesture integration of symbolic gestures but not dynamic landscapes

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Understanding actions based on either language or action observation is presumed to involve the motor system, reflecting the engagement of an embodied conceptual network. We examined how linguistic and gestural information were integrated in a series of cross-domain priming studies. We varied the task demands across three experiments in which symbolic gestures served as primes for verbal targets. Primes were clips of symbolic gestures taken from a rich set of emblems. Participants responded by making a lexical decision to the target (Experiment 1), naming the target (Experiment 2), or performing a semantic relatedness judgment (Experiment 3). The magnitude of semantic priming was larger in the relatedness judgment and lexical decision tasks compared to the naming task. Priming was also observed in a control task in which the primes were pictures of landscapes with conceptually related verbal targets. However, for these stimuli, the amount of priming was similar across the three tasks. We propose that action observation triggers an automatic, pre-lexical spread of activation, consistent with the idea that language–gesture integration occurs in an obligatory and automatic fashion.

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This study was supported by the BSF Grant 2007184 awarded to R. Ivry and M. Lavidor.

Author information

Correspondence to Michal Lavidor.


Appendix 1

See Table 3.

Table 3 Prime–target pairs examples—original stimuli were presented in Hebrew, English translations were added for clarification

Appendix 2

Stimuli characteristics

See Tables 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Table 4 Prime agreement (conventionality or meaningless agreement score), semantic agreement, lexical agreement, target length and frequency, according to the experimental condition, averaged across the different experimental lists
Table 5 Gesture–targets distribution into linguistic categories in each word condition
Table 6 Categorization of gesture–targets into concrete/abstract
Table 7 Prime agreement (conventionality or meaningless agreement score), target length and frequency, according to the experimental condition, averaged across the different experimental lists
Table 8 Targets distribution into linguistic categories in each word condition

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Vainiger, D., Labruna, L., Ivry, R.B. et al. Beyond words: evidence for automatic language–gesture integration of symbolic gestures but not dynamic landscapes. Psychological Research 78, 55–69 (2014).

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  • Lexical Decision
  • Semantic Relatedness
  • Negative Priming
  • Lexical Decision Task
  • Naming Task