The task itself is relatively simple -- sorting cards printed with colored shapes first by color, and then by shape. But the switch from color to shape can be tricky for children younger than 5, says Professor of Psychology Patricia Miller.
In a new study due to be published in the August, 2013 issue of Developmental Psychology, Miller and SF State graduate student Gina O'Neill found that young children who gesture are more likely to make the mental switch and group the shapes accurately.
In fact, gesturing seemed to trump age when it came to the sorting performance of the children, who ranged from 2 and a half years old to 5 years old. In the color versus shape task, as well as one that asked children to sort pictures based on size and spatial orientation, younger children who gestured often were more accurate in their choices than older children who gestured less. The children's gestures included rotating their hands to show the orientation of a card or using their hands to illustrate the image on the card, for example gesturing the shape of rabbits' ears for a card depicting a rabbit.
"Gina and I were surprised by the strength of the effect. Still, the findings are consistent with a growing body of research showing that mind and body work closely together in early cognitive development," Miller said.