The Role of Gestures in Mental Animation
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We examined the use of hand gestures while people solved spatial reasoning problems in which they had to infer how components of a mechanical device will move from a static diagram of the device (mental animation problems). In Experiment 1, participants were asked to think aloud while solving mental animation problems. They gestured on more than 90% of problems, and most gestures expressed information about the component motions that was not stated in words. Two further experiments examined whether the gestures functioned in the mechanical inference process, or whether they merely served functions of expressing or communicating the results of this process. In these experiments, we examined the effects of instructions to think aloud, restricting participants' hand motions, and secondary tasks on mental animation performance. Although participants who were instructed to think aloud gestured more than control groups, some gestures occurred even in control conditions. A concurrent spatial tapping task impaired performance on mechanical reasoning, whereas a simple tapping task and restricting hand motions did not. These results indicate that gestures are a natural way of expressing the results of mental animation processes and suggest that spatial working memory and premotor representations are involved in mental animation. They provide no direct evidence that gestures are functional in the thought process itself, but do not rule out a role for overt gestures in this type of spatial thinking.
Published in the journal Spatial Cognition and Computation as:
Hegarty, Mary and Mayer, Sarah and Kriz, Sarah and Keehner, Madeleine (2005) The Role of Gestures in Mental Animation, Spatial Cognition and Computation 5(4):333-356.
Copyright 2005 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.
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