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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2017 | Event News