Patterns of gesture in conversations involving adults with acquired hearing impairment and their frequent communication partners

Author: Karen Sparrow

Sparrow, Karen, 2023 Patterns of gesture in conversations involving adults with acquired hearing impairment and their frequent communication partners, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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Adults with acquired hearing impairment commonly experience speech perception difficulties despite the use of hearing technology, particularly in the presence of background noise. It is well recognised that the addition of visual information provided by the articulators (lipreading) tends to improve speech perception. However, little is known about other sources of visual information, including the patterns of hand and arm gestures, arising in conversations. The aim of the present research was to explore the influence of acquired hearing impairment on patterns of co-speech gesture produced by frequent (normally hearing) communication partners during face-to-face dyadic interactions in quiet and in background noise during different conversational tasks.

This thesis presents results regarding the patterns of gesture occurring in an initial exploratory case study followed by a series of six case studies. Each case study comprised two normally hearing adult frequent communication partners and one with hearing impairment. The focus of the study was the patterns of gestures produced by the normally hearing principal communication partner in each case study when interacting with their communication partner with hearing impairment and subsequently in interaction with their normally hearing communication partner. Each dyad participated in a free conversation and a short film narration. Audio-visual recordings were sampled and underwent systematic multi-layered transcription. The dependent variables examined were gesture frequency, gesture type, imagistic gesture size and gaze direction during imagistic gesture production.

Quantitative analysis revealed several trends in the gesture production of the principal communication partners, specifically:

• there was a trend towards a higher gesture rate with communication partners with hearing impairment than with normally hearing communication partners in quiet conversation. The effect of noise was to increase gesture rate regardless of hearing status.

• imagistic and interactive gestures were the predominant types of gesture. Proportions of imagistic gestures were higher in narrative than in conversation and proportions of interactive gestures were higher in conversation than narrative in most cases. Gesture rates were also higher in narrative than in conversation in most cases.

• in analysis of gesture size, there was a trend for larger gestures to be produced in quiet interactions with the communication partner with hearing impairment.. An effect of hearing impairment was also found in two cases, in which higher proportions of large imagistic gestures were produced with the communication partner with hearing impairment in noise and quiet conditions.

• the predominant gaze direction while gesturing was toward the communication partner across all interactions. The proportion of gaze toward the communication partner increased in noise but no effect of hearing impairment was found.

Overall, the results show considerable variability across the participants and provide limited support for a substantial effect of hearing impairment on gesture characteristics in quiet or in noise. Qualitative observations revealed some distinct patterns of gesture use arising during instances of communication breakdown and repair, which warrant future study. The successful methods of gesture elicitation and analysis together with the findings present an opportunity for ongoing investigation of gesture to further develop approaches to hearing rehabilitation and communication partner training.

Keywords: gesture, adult acquired hearing impairment, audience design, recipient design, gaze, conversation

Subject: Audiology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2023
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: A/Prof Christopher Lind