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Children Who Gesture Are Better Problem Solvers

Update Date: Jul 26, 2013 04:59 PM EDT

Hand gestures may significantly improve problem-solving skills in children, according to a new study.

Researchers found that younger children who use gestures outperform their peers in problem-solving tasks.

The latest study published in the journal Developmental Psychology involved a relatively simple card-sorting task. Children were asked to first sort the cards, which were printed with colored shapes, by color and then by shape.

Experts say that the switch from color to shape can be difficult for children younger than five.

Researchers found that children who gesture are more likely to make the mental switch and group the shapes accurately.

Surprising, researchers found that gesturing trumped age when it came to the sorting performance of the children, who ranged from two to five years old.

Study results revealed that when asked to sort pictures based on size and spatial orientation, younger children who frequently made gestures were more accurate in their choices than older children who gestured less.

Some of the children's gestures included rotating their hands to show the orientation of a card or using their hands to illustrate the images of the card.

While researchers were surprised by the strength of the gesturing effect, they note that the findings are consistent with previous findings that the mind and body work closely together in early cognitive development.

"The findings are a reminder of how strong individual differences are among children of a particular age," she added. "Certain 3-year-olds look like typical 4-year-olds. This likely reflects an interaction of natural talent and particular experiences-both nature and nurture, as usual," Professor Patricia Miller said in a news release.

"Really, though, there is evidence that gesturing helps with difficult cognitive tasks at any age," Miller said. "Even we adults sometimes gesture when we're trying to organize our tax receipts or our closets. When our minds are overflowing we let our hands take on some of the cognitive load."

Numerous studies revealed that gesturing might play a significant role in the processes that people use to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Some of the processes include retaining memory, keeping the brain from deciding too quickly and being flexible in adding new or different information to handle a task.

Researchers said the next step is to understand whether the act of gesturing helps children perform tasks or whether children who frequently use gestures are just at a more advanced cognitive level than their peers.

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