The Influence of Gesture Production upon Reading Comprehension Outcomes across Development

  • Author / Creator
    Smithson, Lisa J
  • When engaged in a reading comprehension task, the reliance upon a verbal or visuospatial strategy is associated with different outcomes (Johnson-Glenberg, 2000). More specifically, individuals who adopt a verbal strategy tend to demonstrate enhanced recall of information that is explicitly stated in the text while individuals who adopt a visuospatial strategy tend to demonstrate enhanced recall of information that must be inferred from a text (Johnson-Glenberg, 2000). Previous research has shown that gesture production can influence strategy use in a problem-solving task (Alibali, Spencer, Knox, & Kita, 2011). The purpose of the current research was to investigate whether gesture production influences reliance upon a verbal or visuospatial strategy in a reading comprehension task and to determine whether gesture production influences reading comprehension outcomes. Previous research has demonstrated that the generation of text summaries improves reading comprehension (McKeown, Beck, & Blake, 2009). In Study 1, adult participants were presented with easy and standard reading passages that were divided into three paragraphs. Participants were randomly assigned to communicate everything that they could remember from each of the paragraphs in one of four experimental conditions: (1) Gesture: participants were encouraged to use meaningful hand gestures during summary generation, (2) Restricted: participants were restricted from moving their hands during summary generation, (3) Control: participants were not provided with any instructions regarding their movement during summary generation, (4) Written: participants were asked to write down their summaries. Measures of vocabulary, verbal working memory, visuospatial working memory, and motivation were obtained. Among participants in the Gesture and Control conditions, visuospatial working memory and motivation measures were the best predictors of reading comprehension outcomes, whereas among the participants in the Restricted condition, vocabulary was the best predictor of reading comprehension outcomes. Though individuals in the Gesture condition did not experience any notable reading comprehension outcome advantages, individuals who gestured spontaneously in the Control condition did. Further analyses revealed that verbal working memory was a negative predictor of gesture rate. It was hypothesized that gesture production may only be beneficial in the context of a reading comprehension task when verbal working memory resources are taxed. In Study 2, this hypothesis was tested among children by using reading passages of three levels of increasing difficulty. Children were randomly assigned to a Gesture or Control condition. Children in the Gesture condition demonstrated an advantage on both measurements of reading comprehension that did not require the generation of inferences and those that did. In conclusion, these findings suggest that gesture production can influence strategy use in a reading comprehension task. Research methodologies used to assess reading comprehension vary with respect to whether participants are free to move (e.g., Chinn, Anderson, & Waggoner, 2001) or are restricted from moving (e.g., Humphreys & Gennari, 2014). The results from this study suggest that these methodologies may promote different strategies, thereby biasing research in this field. The results from this study also suggest that gesture production may be a useful strategy for individuals who struggle with verbal skills. When children have difficulty understanding text, it may be useful for caregivers and teachers to encourage them to use their hands to represent the ideas presented in the text in meaningful ways.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Psychology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Nicoladis, Elena (Department of Psychology)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Dixon, Peter (Department of Psychology)
    • Wiebe, Sandra (Department of Psychology)
    • Pexman, Penelope (Department of Psychology, University of Calgary)
    • Caplan, Jeremy (Department of Psychology)