Gesturing can boost children's creative thinking

December 14, 2016

Encouraging children to use gestures as they think can help them come up with more creative ideas, according to research in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Our findings show that children naturally gesture when they think of novel ways to use everyday items, and the more they gesture the more ideas they come up with," say psychological scientist Elizabeth Kirk of the University of York. "When we then asked children to move their hands, children were able to come up with even more creative ideas."

Existing research has shown that gesture can help with some kinds of problem-solving. Kirk and colleague Carine Lewis of the University of Hertfordshire hypothesized that it might specifically help us come up with creative or alternative uses for everyday items.

"Gesturing may allow us to explore the properties of the items - for example, how the item could be held, its size, its shape, etc. - and doing so can trigger ideas for creative uses," Kirk explains.

In their first study, the researchers compared the creativity of children who spontaneously gestured with those who either did not or could not gesture.

A total of 78 children, ranging from 9 to 11 years old, saw a series of images depicting ordinary household items, including a newspaper, a tin can, and a kettle. The researchers asked the children to look at each image and list as many novel uses as they could think of. The children could take as much time as they needed; when they paused, the researchers prompted them by saying "What else could you do with it?" A subset of participants completed the task twice - on one version of the task, they wore mittens that limited their ability to gesture.

The researchers transcribed and coded each session, measuring the number of valid novel uses generated by each participant, as well as the originality of those responses and the diversity of categories that the responses fell under.

The data showed that children spontaneously gestured and that greater gesturing was associated with a greater number of creative ideas.

Restricting children's ability to gesture did not impact their ability to come up with creative uses for the objects: Children who were free to gesture produced about the same number of ideas as those who wore the mittens and could not gesture. This may be because children still had many other idea-generating strategies at their disposal when their hands were restricted.

These findings led Kirk and Lewis to wonder: Could encouraging children to gesture actually boost creativity?

In a second experiment, 54 children, ranging from 8 to 11 years old, completed the same alternative uses task. In some cases, children gestured normally; in other cases, the researchers instructed the children to "use your hands to show me how you could use the object in different ways."

The data indicated that the encouragement worked: Children who gestured normally produced 13 gestures, on average, while those who were specifically prompted to gesture produced about 53 gestures, on average.

And encouraging gesture in this way boosted creativity: Children who were encouraged to gesture generated a greater number of novel uses for the everyday objects than did the children who were not given any special instruction.

"Our findings add to the growing body of evidence demonstrating the facilitative role of gesture in thinking and have applications to the classroom," Kirk and Lewis conclude in their paper. "Asking children to move their hands while they think can help them tap into novel ideas. Children should be encouraged to think with their hands."
-end-
For more information about this study, please contact: Elizabeth Kirk at elizabeth.kirk@york.ac.uk.

The article abstract is available online: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797616679183

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "Gesture Facilitates Children's Creative Thinking" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Gestures Articles from Brightsurf:

Guiding light: Skoltech technology puts a light-painting drone at your fingertips
Skoltech researchers have designed and developed an interface that allows a user to direct a small drone to light-paint patterns or letters through hand gestures.

​NTU Singapore scientists develop artificial intelligence system for high precision recognition of hand gestures
Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that recognises hand gestures by combining skin-like electronics with computer vision.

Children improve their narrative performance with the help of rhythmic gestures
Gesture is an integral part of language development. Recent studies carried out by the same authors in collaboration with other members of the Prosodic Studies Group (GrEP) coordinated by Pilar Prieto, ICREA research professor Department of Translation and Language Sciences at UPF, have shown that when the speaker accompanies oral communication with rhythmic gesture, preschool children are observed to better understand the message and improve their oral skills.

Gestures heard as well as seen
Gesturing with the hands while speaking is a common human behavior, but no one knows why we do it.

Oink, oink makes the pig
In a new study, neuroscientists at TU Dresden demonstrated that the use of gestures and pictures makes foreign language teaching in primary schools more effective and sustainable.

New dog, old tricks? Stray dogs can understand human cues
Pet dogs are highly receptive to commands from their owners.

Sport-related concussions
Concussions are a regular occurrence in sport but more so in contact sports such as American football, ice hockey or soccer.

Economists find mixed values of 'thoughts and prayers'
Christians who suffer from natural and human-caused disasters value thoughts and prayers from religious strangers, while atheists and agnostics believe they are worse off from such gestures.

Do as i say: Translating language into movement
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a computer model that can translate text describing physical movements directly into simple computer-generated animations, a first step toward someday generating movies directly from scripts.

Gestures and visual animations reveal cognitive origins of linguistic meaning
Gestures and visual animations can help reveal the cognitive origins of meaning, indicating that our minds can assign a linguistic structure to new informational content 'on the fly' -- even if it is not linguistic in nature.

Read More: Gestures News and Gestures Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.