SATURDAY, Jan. 14, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Deaf people who use sign language recognize and interpret body language quicker than hearing people who don't use sign language, researchers have found.
"There are a lot of anecdotes about deaf people being better able to pick up on body language, but this is the first evidence of that," David Corina, a professor in the department of linguistics and Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, said in a university news release.
Corina and a colleague compared the response times of deaf and hearing people to video clips of people using American Sign Language or making other "non-language" physical gestures, such as stroking their chin.
"We expected that deaf people would recognize sign language faster than hearing people, as the deaf people know and use sign language daily, but the real surprise was that deaf people also were about 100 milliseconds faster at recognizing non-language gestures than were hearing people," Corina said in the news release.
The findings are important because they indicate that the human ability for communication is adaptable and not limited to speech, Corina explained. The research also suggests that deaf people may be especially adept at detecting subtle traits in the physical actions of others, a skill that could be valuable for some sensitive jobs, such as airport screening.
The study was released online in advance of publication in the March print issue of the journal Cognition.
The U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has more about American Sign Language.