Influencing others through gestures: pitfalls for eyewitnesses

Gestures made during interviews can influence or even misinform eyewitnesses. In addition eyewitnesses are unlikely to recall the influential gestures being shown to them, new research suggests. These findings are presented today (20 April) at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference held at the Grand Connaught Rooms, London (18-20 April).

Dr Daniel Gurney from the University of Hertfordshire 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.

Dr Gurney said: "A lot of research has shown that eyewitnesses can be influenced by misleading questions, but this research shows that gestures can also mislead, and sometimes without eyewitnesses even realising it. For those professionals in the police, legal and other sensitive areas of work where questioning and recall of detail is important, we need to make sure the significance of hand gestures is fully taken on board."

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