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Hand Gestures Might Determine How Fast You Learn, According To Study

Hand Gestures Might Determine How Fast You Learn, According To Study

University of Chicago psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow has been fascinated by the mysterious effect of gesticulation on learning and memory. She seeks to identify why people who talk with their hands tend to learn faster and remember longer than others.

The Experiment

Initially, Goldin-Meadow studied deaf children of hearing parents, or what she calls “home signers.” These children were not schooled according to standardized sign language, but had crafted their own signed speech. Goldin-Meadow has gone on to focus on gesture and learning. Importantly, the gesturing Goldin-Meadow studies is not signing, but what she calls “co-speech gesture,” that is, hand movements combined with speech to communicate ideas.

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She and her colleagues at the Goldin-Meadow labaratory have observed that children are more likely to remember the name of objects when they point (a type of gesture) at them. This can be seen in the classroom, where the gestures children choose may indicate their readiness for learning.

Goldin-Meadow’s research has found that children may first show they understand, through gesticulation, before they can verbally communicate understanding. For example, a student may point to the correct answer for a math problem her teacher has written on the chalkboard, but verbalizes incorrectly, revealing a ‘mismatch’ in learning.

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How to make use of mismatches in learning

According to Goldin-Meadow, “mismatch is a transitional state, between one in which gesture and speech are both incorrect, and they match, and one in which gesture and speech are both correct, and they match.”

The student’s teacher could make this a powerful learning opportunity by making explicit the student’s understanding. She could lead her student through a co-speech gesture, pointing to, and correctly verbalizing the answer to solidify the new knowledge. Goldin-Meadow confirms that gestures are “part of the learning conversation.”

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Any difference between concrete gesture and abstract gesture?

Goldin-Meadow’s research also reveals gesturing to be discrete from action. It’s one thing, for instance, to point to an object (gesture) and another to move an object (action). The distinction seems to make all of the difference, according to one of her studies in which she and her colleagues set up three groups of students to get closer at learning strategies.

In the “action” group, students were instructed to physically move plastic numbers on a whiteboard. In the “concrete gesture” group, students were asked to mime that same movement, but without touching the numbers. Finally, Goldin-Meadow had students in the “abstract gesture” group, use their fingers to create a peace-sign to show that they wanted to add the numbers on the whiteboard.

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The findings show that students of both the concrete gesture and abstract gesture group showed better understanding on the follow-up questions where they were asked to solve problems based on their knowledge of the math principle covered in the study.

Goldin-Meadow explains that gesture, “allows a space for abstraction.” When the mind is freed up from having to adhere to the, “particulars of an item, of a  problem, a word, or an experience,” it can focus on processing new information.

Though Goldin-Meadow has produced substantial provocative research, experts are still uncertain about the exact mechanisms at work when we combine gesticulation and speech. She postulates that gesturing serves to off-load some of the cognitive stress of learning, or the total mental energy a student uses to pick up novel information and commit it to working memory.

Featured photo credit: dooder / Freepik via freepik.com

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Last Updated on October 15, 2019

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why we procrastinate after all

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

So, is procrastination bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How bad procrastination can be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

Procrastination, a technical failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

Reference

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