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A Downside of Gesture-Control: Perceptual Power of Gestures Used by Others

Gesture control is an increasingly popular interface method that requires no real technical knowledge, in both virtual environments and in the physical world. There have been many problems to overcome in the accurate assessment of body movements, and in determining which gestures are gestures, and which are just aimless or coincidental body movements on the part of the user.

However, new problems are surfacing in the psychology of gestures. These are issues that in any collaborative environment (in which the gestures of one user are visible to all others), gestures may be rather more loaded in terms of perception than we realise.

Gestures made in the presence of another influence or even misinform the others present, according to an interesting psychological study by Dr Daniel Gurney from the University of Hertfordshire. The doctor and his team interviewed 90 people about the contents of a video they had watched. During the interviews, researchers deliberately performed misleading hand gestures to suggest inaccurate information about the detail in the video. These hand gestures included chin stroking to suggest someone had a beard, although the man in the video did not have a beard.

Dr Gurney and his team found that the interviewees were three times more likely to recall seeing a beard when one was gestured to them, than those interviewees who were not gestured to.
Other hand gestures used in the research included touching a ring finger (to suggest a ring), grasping a wrist (to suggest a watch) and pretending to pull on gloves. All of these gestures implied details that did not actually appear in the video, and the results were similar to those with the misinformation about the beard.

It is something to bear in mind when designing gesture interfaces, that the gestures we are using to control augmented reality equipment around us, or to perform similar functions in a virtual environment, may well be colouring the perception of the others present, to the point where their remembrance of events, and even the appearance of others, is directly affected by the types of gestures they witnessed.

Whilst any of these gestures can be performed by chance, or by someone seeking to obfuscate potential testimony in a crime, we must now also be aware of the existence of such perceptual reinterpreting of gestures when designing gesture-based interfaces, for such interfaces are going to see a great deal more use by their very nature, by individuals who may well be oblivious to their effects.


Influencing others through gestures: pitfalls for eyewitnesses

Can misleading hand gestures influence eyewitness testimony? (Conference Proceedings)

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