Gestures & A Growing Mind
When someone mentions gestures we seem to think we know what they are referring to. For example, when a person gives the “okay” sign they expect everyone to know what that means and most people do.
However, many of us do not realize how much meaning we extract from our world through gestures and that not all gestures mean the same thing to all cultures.
One thing is for sure, new research has noted that even if some gestures mean different things in different cultures, the importance of communicating with gestures begins at an early age.
Researchers from the University of Chicago examined how much gesturing (especially at an early age) helps children in language and cognitive development throughout life.
PsychCentral notes that the researchers found that although language learning varies according to family income and education levels, not all of the impacts are the same.
The study, published in the online edition of the American Psychologist determined that early gesturing — the spontaneous gestures children produce to communicate before and as they are learning to use words — can be used to identify which children with brain injury are likely to go on to develop spoken vocabularies within the typical range, and which children are likely to continue to experience language delay.
The researchers were careful to include children from all different backgrounds and mental capacities, including those from advantaged and disadvantaged families, and those who had suffered brain injury. Although parents from advantaged backgrounds spoke more with their children, there was no difference between advantaged and disadvantaged families in the quality of the word-learning experiences parents gave their children.
The findings included evidence-based ideas to developing tools and diagnostic tests to enhance language and cognitive development in toddlers and children. “We believe that our findings have implications for prediction and diagnosis of later language deficits and for intervention that may improve language skills,” said lead author Susan Goldin-Meadow, Ph.D.
Four hypotheses on language and cognitive development were created from this research:
1. Charting early gesture has the potential to serve as a diagnostic tool to identify children at risk for language delay
2. Encouraging children to gesture at very early ages has the potential to increase the size of their spoken vocabularies at school entry
3. Encouraging caregivers to use more diversified vocabulary and complex syntax has the potential to facilitate children’s acquisition of vocabulary and complex syntax
4. Encouraging caregivers to increase their use of words for number, for the spatial properties of objects, and for abstract relations like similarity has the potential for improving children’s understanding of number and spatial thinking, and their ability to make sophisticated comparisons.
So what does this mean for the speech and cognitive development of toddlers with and without brain injury? Well, that encouraging children to gesture at an early age and using a diversified vocabulary can help toddlers in their speech and cognitive development.
Susan Levine, Ph.D., a specialist on early mathematics development commented, “We found that the amount and type of input children with brain injury receive from their parents or caregivers plays an even bigger role in syntactic and narrative development (but not vocabulary development) than it does in children without injury.”