Talk to the virtual hands: Self-animated avatars improve communication in head-mounted display virtual environments

Trevor J. Dodds, Betty J. Mohler, Heinrich H. Bülthoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Background: When we talk to one another face-to-face, body gestures accompany our speech. Motion tracking technology enables us to include body gestures in avatar-mediated communication, by mapping one's movements onto one's own 3D avatar in real time, so the avatar is self-animated. We conducted two experiments to investigate (a) whether head-mounted display virtual reality is useful for researching the influence of body gestures in communication; and (b) whether body gestures are used to help in communicating the meaning of a word. Participants worked in pairs and played a communication game, where one person had to describe the meanings of words to the other. Principal Findings: In experiment 1, participants used significantly more hand gestures and successfully described significantly more words when nonverbal communication was available to both participants (i.e. both describing and guessing avatars were self-animated, compared with both avatars in a static neutral pose). Participants 'passed' (gave up describing) significantly more words when they were talking to a static avatar (no nonverbal feedback available). In experiment 2, participants' performance was significantly worse when they were talking to an avatar with a prerecorded listening animation, compared with an avatar animated by their partners' real movements. In both experiments participants used significantly more hand gestures when they played the game in the real world. Conclusions: Taken together, the studies show how (a) virtual reality can be used to systematically study the influence of body gestures; (b) it is important that nonverbal communication is bidirectional (real nonverbal feedback in addition to nonverbal communication from the describing participant); and (c) there are differences in the amount of body gestures that participants use with and without the head-mounted display, and we discuss possible explanations for this and ideas for future investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere25759
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Oct 12

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Talk to the virtual hands: Self-animated avatars improve communication in head-mounted display virtual environments'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this