Most people use body language while talking. Often giving subconscious cues about their feelings and ulterior motives, up until recently, it was thought to have a purely visual purpose. Now though, researchers have found that we can pick up on others’ body language even without looking at them. But how?
In a study, researchers recorded three men and three women making monotone sounds (like ‘aaa’) while moving their hands and arms in different ways. Afterwards, they asked 30 subjects to listen to the recordings and guess how they were moving.
In the end, not only were the subjects able to correctly guess how the men and women moved, they were also able to mimic them. Although differences in pitch and volume are relatively easy to detect, the researchers were surprised that the subjects could also subconsciously recognize how movement causes these differences.
“When you hear a voice, you literally hear aspects of a person’s entire body.” says Wim Pouw, the leader of the study and a researcher at the University of Connecticut. “It contributes to the understanding that there is a closer relationship between spoken language and gestures. Hand gestures may have been created to support the voice, to emphasize words, for example.”
The researchers found that body language affects our vocal acoustics in both pitch and volume. While a wrist movement may lead to a very subtle change in both measures, an arm movement creates a bigger change. Speed also has an impact. As movements slow down, pitch tends to slightly increase.
These findings contradict previous assumptions that body language only serves a visual purpose. They also contribute to knowledge about both human communication and speech recognition. In particular, the researchers see that their findings may be able to inform speech recognition technology on how to account for movement when deciphering what people say.