From action to abstraction: using the hands to learn math

Author: Novack, Miriam A.; Congdon, Eliza L.; Hemani-Lopez, Naureen; Goldin-Meadow, Susan

Description: Previous research has shown that children benefit from gesturing during math instruction. We asked whether gesturing promotes learning because it is itself a physical action, or because it uses physical action to represent abstract ideas. To address this question, we taught third-grade children a strategy for solving mathematical-equivalence problems that was instantiated in one of three ways: (a) in a physical action children performed on objects, (b) in a concrete gesture miming that action, or (c) in an abstract gesture. All three types of hand movements helped children learn how to solve the problems on which they were trained. However, only gesture led to success on problems that required generalizing the knowledge gained. The results provide the first evidence that gesture promotes transfer of knowledge better than direct action on objects and suggest that the beneficial effects gesture has on learning may reside in the features that differentiate it from action.

Subject headings: Child; Child Development; Cognition; Female; Gestures; Humans; Male; Mathematics; Cognitive development; Learning

Publication year: 2014

Journal or book title: Psychological Science

Volume: 25

Issue: 4

Pages: 903-910

Find the full text:

Find more like this one (cited by):,16&hl=en

Serial number: 3790

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.