Gestures are a way to express feelings and thoughts non-verbally. They can also be used together with words to provide more emphasis. Gestures allow individuals to express a variety of feelings, "from contempt and hostility to approval and affection," according to Gesture.com. Most gestures are made with the hands, from the thumbs-up sign to the disapproving finger wag. Gestures can be made with other parts of the body as well.
The most well-known of gestures are the types that are emblematic representations of words or thoughts, such as the peace sign. These kinds of gestures can mean one thing in one culture, and something entirely different in another. Certain types of emblem gestures, within a culture, can be highly offensive.
Often, iconic gestures accompany words, as an effort to further illustrate the point that is being made. One common example of this is the demonstration of how tall someone is, as in, "he's about this height." You might make a gesture that adds a comedic element to what is being said. An iconic gesture is often well understood in a given culture.
There are different types of gestures that are considered less specific and cultural and more metaphoric. That is, gestures can convey an idea in a general way, such as waving the arms in the air when describing something complex. These kinds of gestures add spice and emotion to what is being said. Some metaphoric gestures may seem overly dramatic.
Some gestures convey unconscious feelings or desires. These are considered "Affect" gestures, relating to the emotions. Rubbing the eyes, touching the hair, or covering the mouth, are affective. You may notice a child rubbing her eyes when tired. Certain kinds of grooming, like stroking the hair, may indicate a desire to be liked or noticed.
Beat gestures are short taps or rhythmic emphasis used to drive a point home. "A beat is a staccato strike that creates emphasis and grabs attention. A short and single beat can mark an important point in a conversation, while repeated beats can hammer home a critical concept," according to the Changing Minds website. Professional speakers can learn to use beat gestures to add special emphasis to certain words.
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Assia M. Mortensen has over 12 years of experience as an editor and journalist, and has published hundreds of articles in magazines, newspapers and online at "The Santa Barbara Independent," "Frontiers Magazine," "805 Living Magazine," Huffingtonpost.com, LIVESTRONG.COM and many other outlets. Mortensen graduated from the University of California in Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in literature and creative writing.