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Why you can't stop talking with your hands

July 3, 2013 at 11:02 AM ET

Video: Hand gestures have become part of the way we express ourselves, enabling us to say a lot without speaking at all. TODAY’s Jenna Wolfe explores why and how we use our hands to communicate.

If you had to sit on your hands while telling a story – could you get your point across?

Some people definitely could not, and this morning, TODAY’s Jenna Wolfe explored some of the reasons why.

Hand gestures help us think, and they also help the listener understand what we’re trying to say, explained Tanya Raymond, a body language expert. Those of us who are prone to gesticulation are seen as friendlier than people who don’t talk with their hands, who are often perceived as colder or less friendly.

“You’re seen as likable,” says Janine Driver, a body language expert and author of the book “You Can’t Lie to Me.”

But rein it in a little bit to keep your chatty hands from driving your friends and family crazy. Keep your hands within the frame of your body, and don't go above the shoulder area, Driver advises. “The higher the gesture, the more out-of-control you look,” she told the anchors this morning.

We also talked to Elena Nicoladis, a researcher at the University of Alberta who studies hand gestures, for some more quick facts.

  • We tend to use hand gestures more when we’re talking about spatial concepts – like giving directions or giving instructions on how to operate something.
  • We use hand gestures when we have vivid images in mind of what we’re trying to say – for example, you’ll use more hand gestures when you’re trying to remember the exact details of your 7th birthday, rather than remembering what you did on a typical day during your childhood.
  • People who tend to have trouble finding the right words to get their message across are more likely to speak with their hands.
  • Bilinguals are more likely to gesture than people who speak only one language.
  • There is some evidence suggesting that women gesture more than men, but the gender differences tend to be small.
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