Talking with your hands can trigger mental images that help solve complex problems relating to spatial visualization, an important skill for both students and professionals, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
Spatial visualization is the ability to mentally rotate or move an object to a different position or view. An air traffic controller uses spatial visualization to mentally track planes in the air based only on a two-dimensional radar screen. An interior decorator needs spatial visualization to picture how a living room will look with a sofa in different positions without actually moving the sofa.
“Hand gestures are spontaneous and don’t need to be taught, but they can improve spatial visualization,” said psychologist Mingyuan Chu, PhD, who conducted the research with psychologist Sotaro Kita, PhD, at the University of Birmingham in England. “From Galileo and Einstein to da Vinci and Picasso, influential scientific discoveries and artistic masterpieces might never have been achieved without extraordinary spatial visualization skills.”
The research findings appear in the February issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Three studies examined the relationship between hand gestures and spatial visualization using various mental rotation tests:
- In the first experiment, 132 students at the University of Birmingham were tested individually. Using a hidden camera, researchers recorded the number of hand gestures and found that spontaneous gestures increased as the problems became more difficult.
- A second experiment divided 66 students into three groups. One group was encouraged to use gestures, the second was given no instructions, and the third had to sit on their hands to prevent any gestures. The gesture-encouraged group performed significantly better on the tests than the other groups and also fared better on later tests where all of the participants had to sit on their hands, showing that the benefits of gestures may become internalized.
In a final experiment with 32 students, a gesture-encouraged group performed better on several tests, which demonstrated that gestures may help solve a range of spatial visualization problems.
Hand gestures may improve spatial visualization by helping a person keep track of an object in the mind as it is rotated to a new position. Since our hands are used so much in daily life to manipulate objects, gestures also may provide additional feedback and visual cues by simulating how an object would move if the hand were holding it, said Chu, who now works as a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands.
Spatial visualization is important in many scientific fields, including mathematics, physics and engineering, but it also helps in any occupation that requires the use of images or diagrams. The research should have practical implications for education, according to Chu and Kita.
Students in a physics class could be encouraged to use hand gestures to help understand invisible forces such as magnetic fields. Art students could talk with their hands in a still-life class to picture a bowl of fruit or a nude model from a different angle to create a more vivid painting that creates the illusion of three dimensions on a flat canvas.
Article: “The Nature of Gestures’ Beneficial Role in Spatial Problem Solving,” Mingyuan Chu, PhD, and Sotaro Kita, PhD, University of Birmingham; Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 140, No. 1.
Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xge-140-1-102.pdf
Contact Dr. Mingyuan Chu by email at email@example.com or by phone at 31-24-3521307.
The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.
APA Public Affairs Office | Newswise Science News
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
08.12.2016 | Life Sciences
08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences