A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A mix of posts on gesture, HCI, perception or robots and some personal information.

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Gesture Definitions

I am going to try and coin some definitions regarding gestures.

A gesture is any act, except speech, by which we intend to communicate something beyond the act itself

This definition includes all normal gestures, that have meaning (the message that was communicated intentionally) because of cultural conventions (including languages) or iconicity, and all such acts (like giving flowers) that serve, mostly through context, as bearers of an additional meaning (like an apology). Speech is viewed as basically the same type of behavior (it fits the definition), but speech is given an exceptional status because of its importance and because it has certain characteristics that set it apart from other gestures. Excluded are all acts which either do not communicate anything (for example because the actor is not aware of an observer) or which only communicate themselves to an observer (”[look at me,] I am fishing/reading/sleeping/walking”).

I further wish to emphase the difference between normal, straightforward gestures and those acts that serve some other purpose in the first instance and only serve as gestures (or rather ‘gestures of something‘) in the second instance like the example of giving flowers to apologize. If I wish to distinguish between these different gestures I will add the term ’simple’ to the first category and ‘complex’ to the second category.

A gesture-simple is a gesture where the (sole) purpose of the act is to communicate

A gesture-complex is first some action but communicates an additional message in the second instance

I tried to find better words to express what I mean, but it’s the best I could come up with so far (it has been brewing for about a year, see one of my first posts).

Note that any gesture-simple may also be a gesture-complex (even a speech act can be a gesture-complex). I tried to explain this with this example of Pee Wee Reese standing by Jackie Robinson in the face of racist fan-abuse. The shoulder embrace was both a gesture-simple and a gesture-complex.

Pee Wee Rise
The gesture that touched a nation (source)

There are important reasons for making these distinctions (but I forgot them :-) ). Well, at least it will allow me (and maybe you) to better analyze observations of gesture. And perhaps it is necessary to be precise if you want to make statements about gestures. For example, I think that people can typically see that a movement is a gesture-simple from just its appearance but this is not true for a gesture-complex. I think that people easily miss that an action was intended as a gesture-complex or, vice versa, see/read too much in what was just some action, for example in this cartoon from Garfield:

Jon misreads Garfield's intentions
Jon mistakes Garfield’s intentions (source)

Let us see how far these definitions can take us.
Or does anyone have better suggestions?

And a final wild speculation: Women are not able to see a man’s action as just that action but are always convinced it is some gesture-complex (if we do not bring flowers we do not care, if we do bring flowers we have something to apologize for [but we just thought they would be nice on the table]). Men conversely tend to miss most of the complex gestures made by women (when they wear something nice and new to show their appreciation of some event for example). Any takers?

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