Handling pain: The semantic interplay of speech and co-speech hand gestures in the description of pain sensations

Samantha Rowbotham, Judith Holler, Donna Lloyd, Alison Wearden

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Pain is a private and subjective experience about which effective communication is vital, particularly in medical settings. Speakers often represent information about pain sensation in both speech and co-speech hand gestures simultaneously, but it is not known whether gestures merely replicate spoken information or complement it in some way. We examined the representational contribution of gestures in a range of consecutive analyses. Firstly, we found that 78% of speech units containing pain sensation were accompanied by gestures, with 53% of these gestures representing pain sensation. Secondly, in 43% of these instances, gestures represented pain sensation information that was not contained in speech, contributing additional, complementary information to the pain sensation message. Finally, when applying a specificity analysis, we found that in contrast with research in different domains of talk, gestures did not make the pain sensation information in speech more specific. Rather, they complemented the verbal pain message by representing different aspects of pain sensation, contributing to a fuller representation of pain sensation than speech alone. These findings highlight the importance of gestures in communicating about pain sensation and suggest that this modality provides additional information to supplement and clarify the often ambiguous verbal pain message. © 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)244-256
    Number of pages12
    JournalSpeech Communication
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • Co-speech gesture
    • Gesture-speech redundancy
    • Pain communication
    • Pain sensation
    • Semantic interplay of gesture and speech


    Dive into the research topics of 'Handling pain: The semantic interplay of speech and co-speech hand gestures in the description of pain sensations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this