Your Nationality May Influence How Much You Talk With Your Hands

Brian Owens in New Scientist: People of different nationalities appear to vary in their use of hand gestures, according to a study that seems to reinforce the idea that Italians, in particular, “talk with their hands”. Maria Graziano and her colleague Marianne Gullberg, both at Lund University in Sweden, asked 12 people from Sweden and 12 from Italy to describe a clip from the children’s TV show Pingu to a friend who hadn’t seen it, while examining their gestures.

A police officer in Rome, Italy, gesturing to a tourist
Jochen Tack/imageBROKER/Alamy

“Italians do gesture more,” says Graziano on a video call, gesturing emphatically herself, which she puts down to her upbringing in Naples, Italy. In the study, the Italians made an average of 22 gestures per 100 words, compared with the Swedes’ 11. But more interesting was the difference in the function of the gestures, says Graziano. The Swedes mostly used “representational gestures” to illustrate the events and actions of the story, for example mimicking a rolling pin when describing baking. The Italians made these motions as well, but also had more “pragmatic gestures” that comment on the story or introduce new information, such as a hand movement to indicate a new character.

This suggests that the two cultures think differently about the way a narrative is produced, says Graziano. Gestures can reflect what cultures deem important about the content and purpose of a story, she says.

More here.