Our hands help us do lots of physical things: weed gardens, button buttons, and pick noses. However, it turns out that our hands can also help us think.
According to a recent study, explaining a task using hand gestures may be even more profitable than practicing it. To me it makes sense that practicing a task will help me get better at it.
It also makes sense that if I were to explain to someone how to do a
task using gestures, I might also get better at it. But can
gesturing how to do a task actually make me better at it than
practicing the task itself?
The authors of the study, Susan Goldin-Meadow and Sian L. Beilock, summarize their research about this phenomenon:
Gesture is a unique case because, although it is an action, it does not have a direct effect on the world the way other actions usually do. Gesture has its effect by representing ideas. We have argued here that actions whose primary function is to represent ideas--that is, gestures--can influence thinking, perhaps even more powerfully than actions whose function is to affect the world more directly.Another study used an entirely different angle to observe the impact of gesture on thought. This study's somewhat whimsical goal was to see if acting out metaphors about creativity could produce creativity itself. For one of the experiments, the researchers fashioned a box and then tested to see if subjects thought more creatively when sitting inside or outside it. They were literally "thinking outside the box." Get it?