Types of Hand Gestures


Hand gestures are a form of nonverbal communication, which allow a person to communicate a range of thoughts and feelings with or without speech. Gestures differ from other types of body communication such as purely expressive displays, as they generally carry a greater association with language and speech and usually have specific linguistic content. There are several types of hand gestures, which are commonly used.


  • Iconic gestures, also referred to as illustrators, are descriptive gestures often used to illustrate speech, much like painting a picture with the hands. These types of gestures are useful for demonstrating a second viewpoint and adding details to an image a person is conveying, without any accompanying speech. Examples of iconic gestures are using the hands to show how small or big an item is, or demonstrating how to carry out an action, such as demonstrating how to turn on a light switch.


  • A beat is a staccato strike, which grabs a person's attention by creating emphasis. Beat gestures are small rhythmic beating movements of the arm, hand or finger, which keep the same form as the content of speech. These types of gestures may be a short and single beat, or repeated beats, which carry out as long as necessary to convey a point. An example of a beat gesture is "the party starts at three or four" accompanied by a finger flicking up at the word three, and flicking down at the word four.


  • Deictic gestures locate the space in between a narrator and a listener after the narrator introduces a physical or nonphysical entity into the conversation and then repeatedly refers to the entity. During these types of gestures, a person may use an index finger to point, or use the entire hand to represent events or ideas as well as entities in space. An example of a deictic gesture is pointing to the right and left while referring to a person sitting on the right or left.


  • Metaphoric gestures, or representational gestures, are beneficial when explaining an idea without any physical form, with specific shapes such as waving of the hands or pinching with the fingers. The accompanying narration generally will not have a productive metaphor, as the gestures will represent the implied metaphor. An example of a metaphoric gesture is speaking about the length of a meeting while making a rolling motion with the hands as if to say the meeting was too long.


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