I see how you feel: Recipients obtain additional information from speakers' gestures about pain

Samantha J Rowbotham, Judith Holler, Alison Wearden, Donna M Lloyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Despite the need for effective pain communication, pain is difficult to verbalise. Co-speech gestures frequently add information about pain that is not contained in the accompanying speech. We explored whether recipients can obtain additional information from gestures about the pain that is being described.

METHODS: Participants (n=135) viewed clips of pain descriptions under one of four conditions: 1) Speech Only; 2) Speech and Gesture; 3) Speech, Gesture and Face; and 4) Speech, Gesture and Face plus Instruction (short presentation explaining the pain information that gestures can depict). Participants provided free-text descriptions of the pain that had been described. Responses were scored for the amount of information obtained from the original clips.

FINDINGS: Participants in the Instruction condition obtained the most information, while those in the Speech Only condition obtained the least (all comparisons p<0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Gestures produced during pain descriptions provide additional information about pain that recipients are able to pick up without detriment to their uptake of spoken information.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Healthcare professionals may benefit from instruction in gestures to enhance uptake of information about patients' pain experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1333-42
Number of pages10
JournalPatient Education and Counseling|Patient Educ Couns
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Comprehension
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Gestures
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Pain/psychology
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Speech
  • Video Recording
  • Young Adult


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