Parents, take note! Encouraging children to use gestures as they think can help them come up with more creative thinking and creative ideas, according to new research.
“Our findings show that children naturally gesture when they think of novel ways to use everyday items, and the more they gesture the more ideas they come up with,” said Elizabeth Kirk from the University of York in the UK.
“When we then asked children to move their hands, children were able to come up with even more creative ideas,” said Kirk.
“Gesturing may allow us to explore the properties of the items – for example, how the item could be held, its size, its shape, etc – and doing so can trigger ideas for creative uses,” Kirk added.
In their first study, researchers compared the creativity of children who spontaneously gestured with those who either did not or could not gesture.
A total of 78 children, ranging from nine to 11 years old, saw a series of images depicting ordinary household items, including a newspaper, a tin can and a kettle.
The researchers asked the children to look at each image and list as many novel uses as they could think of.
The children could take as much time as they needed; when they paused, researchers prompted them by saying “What else could you do with it?”
A subset of participants completed the task twice – on one version of the task, they wore mittens that limited their ability to gesture.
Researchers transcribed and coded each session, measuring the number of valid novel uses generated by each participant, as well as the originality of those responses and the diversity of categories that the responses fell under.
The data showed that children spontaneously gestured and that greater gesturing was associated with a greater number of creative ideas.
Restricting children’s ability to gesture did not impact their ability to come up with creative uses for the objects.
Children who were free to gesture produced about the same number of ideas as those who wore the mittens and could not gesture.
This may be because children still had many other idea-generating strategies at their disposal when their hands were restricted.
In a second experiment, 54 children, ranging from 8 to 11 years old, completed the same alternative uses task.
In some cases, children gestured normally; in other cases, researchers instructed them to “use your hands to show me how you could use the object in different ways.”
Children who gestured normally produced 13 gestures, on average, while those who were specifically prompted to gesture produced about 53 gestures, on average.
Children who were encouraged to gesture generated a greater number of novel uses for the everyday objects than did the children who were not given any special instruction.
The research appears in the journal Psychological Science.