The body talks: Sensorimotor communication and its brain and kinematic signatures

Giovanni Pezzulo*, Francesco Donnarumma, Haris Dindo, Alessandro D'Ausilio, Ivana Konvalinka, Cristiano Castelfranchi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

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Human communication is a traditional topic of research in many disciplines such as psychology, linguistics and philosophy, all of which mainly focused on language, gestures and deictics. However, these do not constitute the sole channels of communication, especially during online social interaction, where instead an additional critical role may be played by sensorimotor communication (SMC). SMC refers here to (often subtle) communicative signals embedded within pragmatic actions – for example, a soccer player carving his body movements in ways that inform a partner about his intention, or to feint an adversary; or the many ways we offer a glass of wine, rudely or politely. SMC is a natural form of communication that does not require any prior convention or any specific code. It amounts to the continuous and flexible exchange of bodily signals, with or without awareness, to enhance coordination success; and it is versatile, as sensorimotor signals can be embedded within every action. SMC is at the center of recent interest in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, human-robot interaction and experimental semiotics; yet, we still lack a coherent and comprehensive synthesis to account for its multifaceted nature. Some fundamental questions remain open, such as which interactive scenarios promote or not promote SMC, what aspects of social interaction can be properly called communicative and which ones entail a mere transfer of information, and how many forms of SMC exist and what we know (or still don't know) about them from an empirical viewpoint. The present work brings together all these separate strands of research within a unified overarching, multidisciplinary framework for SMC, which combines evidence from kinematic studies of human-human interaction and computational modeling of social exchanges.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysics of Life Reviews
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Sensorimotor communication
  • Joint action
  • Social coordination
  • Action kinematics


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