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Hippocampus. 2018 Jun;28(6):406-415. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22840. Epub 2018 Mar 23.

Hand gestures support word learning in patients with hippocampal amnesia.

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Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee.
DeLTA Center, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa.
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa.


Co-speech hand gesture facilitates learning and memory, yet the cognitive and neural mechanisms supporting this remain unclear. One possibility is that motor information in gesture may engage procedural memory representations. Alternatively, iconic information from gesture may contribute to declarative memory representations mediated by the hippocampus. To investigate these alternatives, we examined gesture's effects on word learning in patients with hippocampal damage and declarative memory impairment, with intact procedural memory, and in healthy and in brain-damaged comparison groups. Participants learned novel label-object pairings while producing gesture, observing gesture, or observing without gesture. After a delay, recall and object identification were assessed. Unsurprisingly, amnesic patients were unable to recall the labels at test. However, they correctly identified objects at above chance levels, but only if they produced a gesture at encoding. Comparison groups performed well above chance at both recall and object identification regardless of gesture. These findings suggest that gesture production may support word learning by engaging nondeclarative (procedural) memory.


amnesia; gesture; semantic memory; word learning


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