A Helping Hand: Hand Gestures and the Mind

New research suggests that hand gestures may boost spatial visualization by helping a person keep track of an object in the mind as it is rotated.  At least that is what an article in US News Health has reported.

Researchers examined the relationship between hand gestures and spatial visualization in three experiments.  One of the studies found that hand gestures increased as the difficulty of mental rotation tests increased.

Spatial visualization is the ability to rotate or move an object to a different position or view.  This type of ability comes in handy for pilots and air traffic controllers as well as physicists and engineers.   The other two studies showed that the use of hand gestures directly correlated to increased test scores.

Science Blog, another website, also commented on this study.  They added that in the initial experiment 132 students were tested and a hidden camera showed that spontaneous gestures increased as the problems became more difficult.

They noted that in the other two experiments a group of students were encouraged to use hand gestures, the second group was given no instructions and the third group had to sit on their hands to prevent gesturing.  The gesture encouraged group performed significantly better on the tests than the other two groups.  That same group also performed better on later tests where they had to sit on their hands, illustrating that the benefits of gesturing may become internalized.

The detailed research findings can be found in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General or on the American Psychology Association website.

Co-author and psychologist Mingyuan Chu, PhD, purports, “Hand gestures are spontaneous and don’t need to be taught, but they can improve spatial visualization.”  Chu goes on to suggest that these findings can be beneficial in education.  She states, “From Galileo and Einstein to Da Vinci and Picasso, influential scientific discoveries and artistic masterpieces might never have been achieved without extraordinary spatial visualization skills.”

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