The signing body: Extensive sign language practice shapes the size of hands and face

Mora, Laura; Sedda, Anna; Esteban, Teresa and Cocchini, Gianna. 2021. The signing body: Extensive sign language practice shapes the size of hands and face. Experimental Brain Research, 239(7), pp. 2233-2249. ISSN 0014-4819 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The representation of the metrics of the hands is distorted but is susceptible to malleability due to expert dexterity (magicians) and long-term tool use (baseball players). However, it remains unclear whether modulation leads to a stable representation of the hand that is adopted in every circumstance, or whether the modulation is closely linked to the spatial context where the expertise occurs. To this aim, a group of 10 experienced Sign Language (SL) interpreters were recruited to study the selective influence of expertise and space localisation in the metric representation of hands. Experiment 1 explored differences in hands’ size representation between the SL interpreters and 10 age-matched controls in near-reaching (Condition 1) and far-reaching space (Condition 2), by using the localisation task. SL interpreters presented reduced hand size in near-reaching condition, with characteristic underestimation of finger lengths, and reduced overestimation of hands and wrists widths in comparison with controls. This difference was lost in far-reaching space, confirming the effect of expertise on hand representations is closely linked to the spatial context where an action is performed. As SL interpreters are also experts in the use of their face with communication purposes, the effects of expertise in the metrics of the face were also studied (Experiment 2). SL interpreters were more accurate than controls, with overall reduction of width overestimation. Overall, expertise modifies the representation of relevant body parts in a specific and context-dependent manner. Hence, different representations of the same body part can coexist simultaneously.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


body representation, body metrics, sign language, hand, face

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Psychology > Centre for Cognition, Computation and Culture (CCCC)


21 April 2021Accepted
24 May 2021Published Online
July 2021Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

26 Apr 2021 08:41

Last Modified:

28 Jul 2021 00:48

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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