Theses Doctoral

How Do Gestures Reflect Thought and When Do They Affect Thought?

Zrada, Melissa

People perform gestures both while communicating with others and while thinking to themselves. Gestures that people perform for themselves when they are alone can reveal a great deal about what they are thinking, and are also believed to improve comprehension and memory. Previous research has demonstrated that people gesture when information can be mapped directly to a spatial representation; for example, on tests of spatial thinking. What is not as widely researched is whether or not people will gesture for information that is not inherently spatial. Further, will people gesture for information that is not spatial or relational? And if individuals do gesture for these other types of stimuli, what types of gestures will they perform, and will gesturing improve memory?
This work provides evidence that people do gesture, even when the information is not inherently spatial or relational. For information that is not spatial but related, people perform representational gestures; for example, creating an ordered list with their hands to represent preference of movie genres. For information that is non-relational, people use considerably fewer representational gestures, but can be observed using beat gestures, which are believed to help in keeping track of information. These studies did not provide strong evidence to support the claim that gestures help people understand and remember information, as gesture was only beneficial for one type of stimuli (mechanical systems). However, future research with more sensitive measures has the potential reveal this phenomenon.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Tversky, Barbara
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 23, 2018