Can gestures reveal more than words? Examining memory in preschoolers
Across early childhood, verbal recall provides a more limited account of memory retrieval than behavioural recall (e.g., Simcock & Hayne, 2002). Older childrens physical gestures have also been shown to reveal additional information which has been stored but which children are not yet able to communicate verbally or access explicitly (Goldin-Meadow, 2000). The aim of the present study was to determine whether preschool children spontaneously produce gestures that reflect their memory for an event, and if so, whether their gestures contain any additional information that they do not express verbally. To do this, we re-analysed the verbal recall sessions of 112 participants aged 3-5 years who had previously watched a video demonstration of a unique magic box event. Verbal recall was coded for the presence of iconic representational gestures, which are gestures which refer to a graphical representation of a phenomenon (Arzarello & Robutti, 2004). Thirty-one children produced representational gestures during their verbal recall (M¼2.6 gestures per gesturing child). The production of representational gestures was positively correlated with verbal recall, performance on a verbal comprehension test, and behavioural recall for the target event, irrespective of age. Gestures reflected the content of memory, but also included details that were not reflected in verbal report such as the specific motions of actions, spatial information, and the size and shape of items. These findings suggest that attending to gestures in preschool children can provide unique access to memory details that would otherwise be missed in verbal recall.