Asymmetric Dynamic Attunement of Speech and Gestures in the Construction of Children’s Understanding

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Abstract

As children learn they use their speech to express words and their hands to gesture. This study investigates the interplay between real-time gestures and speech as children construct cognitive understanding during a hands-on science task. 12 children (M = 6, F = 6) from Kindergarten (n = 5) and first grade (n = 7) participated in this study. Each verbal utterance and gesture during the task were coded, on a complexity scale derived from dynamic skill theory. To explore the interplay between speech and gestures, we applied a cross recurrence quantification analysis (CRQA) to the two coupled time series of the skill levels of verbalizations and gestures. The analysis focused on (1) the temporal relation between gestures and speech, (2) the relative strength and direction of the interaction between gestures and speech, (3) the relative strength and direction between gestures and speech for different levels of understanding, and (4) relations between CRQA measures and other child characteristics. The results show that older and younger children differ in the (temporal) asymmetry in the gestures–speech interaction. For younger children, the balance leans more toward gestures leading speech in time, while the balance leans more toward speech leading gestures for older children. Secondly, at the group level, speech attracts gestures in a more dynamically stable fashion than vice versa, and this asymmetry in gestures and speech extends to lower and higher understanding levels. Yet, for older children, the mutual coupling between gestures and speech is more dynamically stable regarding the higher understanding levels. Gestures and speech are more synchronized in time as children are older. A higher score on schools’ language tests is related to speech attracting gestures more rigidly and more asymmetry between gestures and speech, only for the less difficult understanding levels. A higher score on math or past science tasks is related to less asymmetry between gestures and speech. The picture that emerges from our analyses suggests that the relation between gestures, speech and cognition is more complex than previously thought. We suggest that temporal differences and asymmetry in influence between gestures and speech arise from simultaneous coordination of synergies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number473
Number of pages19
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31-Mar-2016

Keywords

  • CROSS-RECURRENCE QUANTIFICATION
  • TRANSITIONAL KNOWLEDGE
  • COGNITIVE-DEVELOPMENT
  • INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY
  • EXPLAINING MATH
  • LIMB MOVEMENTS
  • HUMAN HAND
  • SYSTEMS
  • CONVERSATION
  • EMBODIMENT

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