These days, it’s pretty common to teach infants sign language in order to help them communicate before they can speak properly. Not only does this help parents communicate with their children, but it can also make babies less frustrated when they want to communicate but don’t have the ability with words. Researchers from the San Francisco State University have found that children who gesture are more likely to perform better than their peers in cognitive, problem-solving tasks.
In the study, young children were asked to sort cards first by color and then shape. This is a relatively simple task but is difficult for children under the age of five because of the switch from color to shape. Leaders of the study, Professor of Psychology Patricia Miller and graduate student Gina O’Neill, found that young children in the study who gestured were more likely to make the mental switch and group the shapes accurately.
During the tests, the researchers were surprised to find that gesturing made even younger children more accurate than the older children who gestured less often. "Gina and I were surprised by the strength of the effect. Still, the findings are consistent with a growing body of research showing that mind and body work closely together in early cognitive development," Miller said.
The study conducted at SF State is a contribution to the growing amount of research dedicated to proving that gesturing plays a significant role in the processes people use to problem solve and achieve goals. These processes include holding information in memory, keeping the brain from choosing an action too quickly, and the ability to accept new or different information in order to handle a task.
Other studies show that gesturing can help older students learn mathematical concepts more easily. For this study, Miller and O’Neill observed the participating children to see whether or not they were low or high gesturing children. Children who spontaneously gestured while talking and making decisions were classified as high gesturing children, while those that didn’t were low gesturing. It was also found that the high gesturing children performed the cognitive tasks better than the other children even if they didn’t gesture while making the choices.
The researchers admitted that this made it difficult to determine if the gesturing itself helped the children with the tasks, or if the gesturing was just an effect of some other factor that enabled the children to perform as well as they did. It is a question that the researchers would like to examine in more closely in the future.
Source: San Francisco State University (2013, July 26). Give them a hand: Gesturing children perform well on cognitive tasks. ScienceDaily.