Waving Hands Helps Learning

A recent study reported by Scientific American discusses the concept of Embodied Cognition. Essentially, the researchers concluded that people make hand gestures while talking not solely for the purpose of their audience. In many instances, gesturing while talking helps the speaker perform cognitive tasks more efficiently. This is yet another example of how little we know about how our brains work. Nothing about this result would have been intuitive — not even to someone like me who cannot talk without his hands.

As many of you know, I spend a great deal of time reading and experimenting with brain function concepts. I can still start an argument with most people my age by saying that you are NOT born with all the brain cells you’ll ever have, or you don’t really use just ten percent of your brain’s capacity. These “facts” were so drilled into us when we were going thru school that their belief is held with religious fervor by many. This is just the tip of the pile of incorrect information we’ve been told about our big brains. I keep reading because researchers learn something new nearly every day. Oftentimes, the new refutes previous beliefs. That’s why I try to create my own experiments to see if I can reproduce the effect on myself. Now I realize that my self-experimentation doesn’t prove or disprove the research, but it makes me feel more or less confident in the result when I see how it plays out on me.

This gesture thing holds true for sure. I do a lot of public speaking. When asked to speak to a group, I usually prepare by thinking about the topic and all that I know about it until right before I have to speak. I mean that literally. It’s not unusual to see me jotting notes as I’m being introduced. 

The most often made comment about my speaking style as I went through Toastmasters was that my hands seem to be in constant motion and that the gestures don’t always add to the presentation. Now I know that my hand gestures are a part of the way I recall all of the information I’ve accumulated while pondering my topic. I use my hands to make me sound smarter. I’ll have to start explaining that the motions aren’t for my listeners. Maybe then it will be easier for me to let go.


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