Representational Gestures Reflect Conceptualization in Problem Solving

Kirsten Muser


The Information Packaging Hypothesis (Alibali, Kita & Young, 2000) holds that gestures play a role in organizing information into conceptual “packages†to be verbalized by the speaker. Representational gestures may be specific for strengthening visuospatial representations in working memory. This embodied spatial content may facilitate verbal explanations of both physical and more abstract problems. Experiment 1 was designed to analyze transfer of format-specific gestures. Participants solved the Tower of Hanoi problem in a physical or computerized version and then explained the solution of the same or opposite format. In Experiment 2, participants first performed the standard Tower of Hanoi problem and then explained an analogous Russian Dolls problem while gesture was allowed or precluded. The problem was congruent (direct mapping) or incongruent (inverse size mapping of tower pieces and dolls) Representational gestures based on the physical Tower of Hanoi were carried over to the analogue. They were modified under easy mapping to “doll-appropriate†holding formations, whereas speakers adhered to grasping gestures in the more difficult condition. Allowing gesture facilitated explanations of the Russian Dolls problem. Representational gestures are therefore not only imagistic, but are linked to underlying structures for conveying conceptual material.

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