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Cogn Sci. 2017 Mar;41(2):518-535. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12344. Epub 2016 Apr 29.

Hand Gesture and Mathematics Learning: Lessons From an Avatar.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Delta Center, University of Iowa.
Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside.
Department of Computer Science, Purdue University.


A beneficial effect of gesture on learning has been demonstrated in multiple domains, including mathematics, science, and foreign language vocabulary. However, because gesture is known to co-vary with other non-verbal behaviors, including eye gaze and prosody along with face, lip, and body movements, it is possible the beneficial effect of gesture is instead attributable to these other behaviors. We used a computer-generated animated pedagogical agent to control both verbal and non-verbal behavior. Children viewed lessons on mathematical equivalence in which an avatar either gestured or did not gesture, while eye gaze, head position, and lip movements remained identical across gesture conditions. Children who observed the gesturing avatar learned more, and they solved problems more quickly. Moreover, those children who learned were more likely to transfer and generalize their knowledge. These findings provide converging evidence that gesture facilitates math learning, and they reveal the potential for using technology to study non-verbal behavior in controlled experiments.


Animated pedagogical agent; Cognitive development; Gesture; Instruction; Learning; Mathematics; Nonverbal behavior

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