Gesture as Model Enactment: The Depictive and Causal Roles of Gesture in Mental Model Construction When Learning from Text

WCER Working Paper No. 2012-3

Mitchell J. Nathan and Chelsea V. Johnson

March 2012, 46 pp.

ABSTRACT: The relationship between gesture production and mental models was explored in three experiments focusing on situation model (SM) formation when learning from a scientific text. Participants engaged in one-on-one interviews after reading an illustrated tutorial on the human circulatory system. We found that participants gestured more frequently when responding to model-based inference (Experiment 1; N = 22) than textbase or general knowledge questions. Attempts to impair SM formation with model-impoverished text lacking illustrations resulted in comparable performance on model-based measures (Experiment 2; N = 48), along with elevated rates of gesture production. When we restricted gestures by imposing a frequently changing tapping-pattern activity, participants' performance on model-based inference questions was lower than that of participants in two comparison groups (Experiment 3; N = 79). The results are interpreted with respect to the Gesture as Model Enactment (GAME) framework, where activation of motor control systems as a component of mental simulations accounts for a reciprocal relationship between gesture production and mental model formation.

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keywords: Fields: education and psychology. Topics: learning, non-verbal communication and gesture, and reading. Methods: human experimentation