“Talking with your hands can trigger mental images that help solve complex problems relating to spatial visualization, an important skill for both students and professionals, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
In a final experiment with 32 students, a gesture-encouraged group performed better on several tests, which demonstrated that gestures may help solve a range of spatial visualization problems.
Hand gestures may improve spatial visualization by helping a person keep track of an object in the mind as it is rotated to a new position. Since our hands are used so much in daily life to manipulate objects, gestures also may provide additional feedback and visual cues by simulating how an object would move if the hand were holding it, said Chu, who now works as a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands.
Spatial visualization is important in many scientific fields, including mathematics, physics and engineering, but it also helps in any occupation that requires the use of images or diagrams. The research should have practical implications for education, according to Chu and Kita.
Students in a physics class could be encouraged to use hand gestures to help understand invisible forces such as magnetic fields. Art students could talk with their hands in a still-life class to picture a bowl of fruit or a nude model from a different angle to create a more vivid painting that creates the illusion of three dimensions on a flat canvas.”
Mingyuan Chu and Sotaro Kita (2011?). The Nature of Gestures’ Beneficial Role in Spatial Problem Solving. Journal of Experimental Psychology, General, Vol. 140, No. 1.