Gesture in Thought

Susan Goldin-Meadow and Susan Wagner Cook

in The Oxford Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199734689
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Gesture in Thought

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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The spontaneous gestures that speakers produce when they talk about a task reflect aspects of the speakers' knowledge about that task, aspects that are often not found in the speech that accompanies the gestures. But gesture can go beyond reflecting a speaker's current knowledge—it frequently presages the next steps the speaker will take in acquiring new knowledge, suggesting that gesture may play a role in cognitive change. To investigate this hypothesis, we explore the functions gesture serves with respect to both communication (the effects gesture has on listeners) and cognition (the effects gesture has on speakers themselves). We also explore the mechanisms that underlie the production of gesture, and we provide evidence that gesture has roots in speech, visuospatial thinking, and action. Gesturing is not merely hand waving, nor is it merely a window into the mind. It can affect how we think and reason and, as such, offers a useful tool to both learners and researchers.

Keywords: communication; embodied cognition; expert; learning; novice; speech; transitional knowledge; visuospatial thinking; working memory

Article.  14751 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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