Theses Doctoral

Gestures Can Create Models that Help Thinking

Liu, Yang

People gesture every day and everywhere. They gesture in communication, speech, and for themselves while thinking. A large number of studies have explored the gestures in speech and communication under a variety of conditions. However, gestures for thinking did not draw much attention, yet they are natural and spontaneous behaviors of the human being and can reveal the way people process information. Gestures in thinking are also believed to be beneficial in comprehension and memory. Previous studies have demonstrated that people gesture for spatial thinking tasks such as map reading and text navigation test. Theories on embodied cognition and grounded cognition claim that gestures are needed when people visualize the models in mind. What if the models are not inherently spatial? Will people gesture for abstract information? Or on the contrary, what if the models are already presented in visual spatial form that you can simply copy the image, not build one on your own? Will people gesture for diagrams and maps? If so, what kind of gestures will they use? Will gesture improve comprehension and memory?
This work provides evidence that people gesture for not inherently spatial models and spatial models that are presented in diagrammatic format. For information that is not inherently spatial, participants use representational gestures to facilitate the visualization. For instance, a temporal schedule can be visualized into a two-dimension table. For linear order text, people create a list of items that are organized by a certain order. When the spatial and not inherently spatial models are presented in maps or diagrams, representational gestures were still observed and beneficial for the memory test.
Due to the limited sample size and other limitations of the lab setting experiment, these studies did not provide strong results that support the hypotheses that gestures help people comprehend and memorize information. Gestures were found beneficial for only one type of stimuli (mechanical systems) and an overall effect on memory test scores across text and diagram stimuli. Even though the effect of gestures was not significant between different types and formats of stimuli, it was in the right direction. Future research with more sensitive measurements could further explore gestures for thinking.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Tversky, Barbara
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 8, 2019