Semester of Graduation

May 2024


Master of Arts (MA)


Communication Disorders

Document Type



Previous studies have demonstrated that simultaneous speech and iconic gestures enhance learning and memory for listeners. Additionally, metacognitive awareness, which can be measured through judgements of learning (JOLs), has also been shown to impact learning and memory. However, it has not been established that these benefits apply to all learners. Existing studies on gesture processing and metacognitive abilities in autistic adults yield mixed findings. The present study aims to investigate the impact of co-speech iconic gestures on word pair recall and perceived learning (JOLs) in autistic and non-autistic adults.

Forty non-autistic adults and 40 autistic adults participated in an online experiment. Participants listened to a spoken sentence including an unrelated predicate-noun word pair at the end while watching a video of a model producing either an iconic gesture (that matched the spoken predicate) or no gesture. After each sentence, participants rated the likelihood of remembering the word pair at a later time by providing a JOL. Word pair memory was tested using a free recall test.

Repeated measures mixed analyses of variance (ANOVA) revealed a main effect of condition on word 1 (W1) and recall of whole word pairs, with no main effect of group or group by condition interaction. There was no main effect of condition, group, or group by condition for word 2 (W2). Word 2 recall was marginally increased in the gesture condition; again, there was no significant effect of group or group by condition interaction. Complementing the recall findings, the JOL analysis revealed a main effect of condition with no group or group by condition effect. Autistic and non-autistic learners perceived the learning and memory of word pairs to be enhanced when the W1 was accompanied by a semantically matching iconic gesture.

Thus, the current findings indicate that word memory for autistic and non-autistic learners benefits to a similar extent from co-speech iconic gestures, and that both groups perceive this benefit similarly. These findings align with previously published co-speech gesture memory research and extend it to autistic learners. Additionally, these findings support emerging findings that autistic learners process gestures similarly to non-autistic learners.



Committee Chair

Haebig, Eileen