Learning from gesture and action: An investigation of memory for where objects went and how they got there

Hostetter, A. B., Pouw, W., & Wakefield, E. M. (2020). Learning from gesture and action: An investigation of memory for where objects went and how they got there. Cognitive Science, 44(9): e12889. doi:10.1111/cogs.12889.
Speakers often use gesture to demonstrate how to perform actions—for example, they might show how to open the top of a jar by making a twisting motion above the jar. Yet it is unclear whether listeners learn as much from seeing such gestures as they learn from seeing actions that physically change the position of objects (i.e., actually opening the jar). Here, we examined participants' implicit and explicit understanding about a series of movements that demonstrated how to move a set of objects. The movements were either shown with actions that physically relocated each object or with gestures that represented the relocation without touching the objects. Further, the end location that was indicated for each object covaried with whether the object was grasped with one or two hands. We found that memory for the end location of each object was better after seeing the physical relocation of the objects, that is, after seeing action, than after seeing gesture, regardless of whether speech was absent (Experiment 1) or present (Experiment 2). However, gesture and action built similar implicit understanding of how a particular handgrasp corresponded with a particular end location. Although gestures miss the benefit of showing the end state of objects that have been acted upon, the data show that gestures are as good as action in building knowledge of how to perform an action.
Supplementary material
additional analyses Open Data OSF
Publication type
Journal article
Publication date
2020

Share this page