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CCN Brown Bag Series

Wednesday, October 04, 2017,
  • Location: Wilson Hall
  • Room: 115

Caitlin Hilverman (Melissa Duff's lab)

Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences

Vanderbilt University

Hand gesture as a window into communication and memory"


When we talk, we gesture spontaneously with our hands. Hand gestures provide a visual, analog form of our spoken language that is based on our memory for what we are communicating about. Furthermore, hand gestures have been shown to enhance learning both for ourselves and for our listeners. Despite this bidirectional relationship between gesture and memory, the cognitive and neural mechanisms supporting this relationship remain unknown. My research seeks to uncover both how gesture production reflects what is represented in the mind and how gesture production and perception engage mechanisms of memory. My working hypothesis is that some properties of gesture engage non-declarative (procedural) memory while other properties rely on hippocampally-mediated declarative memory. To test this hypothesis, I have examined the language production and comprehension of healthy adults, patients with hippocampal amnesia, and brain-damaged controls. I have found that in healthy adults, gesture can be modulated independently of and provides information not present in spoken language. I have also found that amnesic patients gesture in ways that are systematically different from comparison groups, suggesting hippocampal involvement in gesture production. Additionally, gesture can be leveraged to facilitate learning in this population, suggesting a non-declarative link. By determining the relationship between brain function and gesture processing I hope to inform theories of language production, clarify the relationship between language and memory, and provide insight into translating gesture into successful interventions.