Making Children Gesture Brings Out Implicit Knowledge and Leads to Learning

Sara C. Broaders*, Susan Wagner Cook, Zachary Mitchell, Susan Goldin-Meadow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

205 Scopus citations


Speakers routinely gesture with their hands when they talk, and those gestures often convey information not found anywhere in their speech. This information is typically not consciously accessible, yet it provides an early sign that the speaker is ready to learn a particular task (S. Goldin-Meadow, 2003). In this sense, the unwitting gestures that speakers produce reveal their implicit knowledge. But what if a learner was forced to gesture? Would those elicited gestures also reveal implicit knowledge and, in so doing, enhance learning? To address these questions, the authors told children to gesture while explaining their solutions to novel math problems and examined the effect of this manipulation on the expression of implicit knowledge in gesture and on learning. The authors found that, when told to gesture, children who were unable to solve the math problems often added new and correct problem-solving strategies, expressed only in gesture, to their repertoires. The authors also found that when these children were given instruction on the math problems later, they were more likely to succeed on the problems than children told not to gesture. Telling children to gesture thus encourages them to convey previously unexpressed, implicit ideas, which, in turn, makes them receptive to instruction that leads to learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-550
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • embodied cognition
  • gesture
  • implicit knowledge
  • learning
  • mathematical equivalence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience

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