Analogical gestures foster understanding of causal systems


Sensitivity to the causal structure underlying phenomena is critical to expert understanding. Fostering such understanding in learners is therefore a key goal in education. We hypothesized that observing analogical gestures—which represent relational information in visuospatial format— would lead learners to notice and reason about underlying causal patterns, such as positive and negative feedback. Participants watched brief video lectures about the human body and the plant kingdom, which were delivered along with gestures representing either: 1) visuospatial details (iconic gesture condition); or 2) relational structure (analogical gesture condition). In a subsequent classification task, relative to participants who saw iconic gestures, participants who saw analogical gestures were more likely to sort the phenomena described in the videos—as well as novel phenomena—by their causal structure (e.g., positive feedback). The results suggest that analogical gestures can be harnessed to foster causal understanding.

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