Why is talking along with gestures so much easier than trying to talk without gesturing?
—Lionel Halvorsen, Cornith, Tex.
Michael P. Kaschak, an associate professor of psychology at Florida State University, offers an explanation:
A person in a fit of rage may have trouble verbalizing thoughts and feelings, but his or her tightly clenched fists will get the message across just fine.
Gesturing is a ubiquitous accompaniment to speech. It conveys information that may be difficult to articulate otherwise. Speaking without gesturing is less intuitive and requires more thought. Without the ability to gesture, information that a simple movement could have easily conveyed needs to be translated into a more complex string of words. For instance, pointing to keys on the table and saying, “The keys are there,” is much faster and simpler than uttering, “Your keys are right behind you on the countertop, next to the book.”
The link between speech and gesture appears to have a neurological basis. In 2007 Jeremy Skipper, a developmental psychobiologist at Cornell University, used fMRI to show that when comprehending speech, Broca’s area (the part of the cortex associated with both speech production and language and gesture comprehension) appears to “talk” to other brain regions less when the speech is accompanied by gesture. When gesture is present, Broca’s area has an easier time processing the content of speech and therefore may not need to draw on other brain regions to understand what is being expressed. Such observations illustrate the close link between speech and gesture.