Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Learning from Text Benefits from Enactment

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Learning from Text Benefits from Enactment

Article excerpt

Published online: 14 May 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Classical studies on enactment have highlighted the beneficial effects of gestures performed in the encoding phase on memory for words and sentences, for both adults and children. In the present investigation, we focused on the role of enactment for learning from scientific texts among primary-school children. We assumed that enactment would favor the construction of a mental model of the text, and we verified the derived predictions that gestures at the time of encoding would result in greater numbers of correct recollections and discourse-based inferences at recall, as compared to no gestures (Exp. 1), and in a bias to confound paraphrases of the original text with the verbatim text in a recognition test (Exp. 2). The predictions were confirmed; hence, we argue in favor of a theoretical framework that accounts for the beneficial effects of enactment on memory for texts.

Keywords Enactment . Gesture production . Mental model . Learning

Hand gestures are motor actions that often accompany speech and are intertwined with the spoken content (e.g., Kelly, Manning, & Rodak, 2008;McNeill,1992). Studies on enact- ment have recognized a specific role of gestures in memory tasks, and purported that gestures enhance memory for speech. The term enactment refers to the finding that free recall of action phrases like "Break the toothpick" is improved when participants perform the action during the encoding phase (subject-performed task, SPT), as compared to a situation in which they read or hear the sentence (verbal task, VT) (Feyereisen, 2009). This effect has been consistent across numerous studies since the early 1980s (for reviews, see Engelkamp, 1998; Zimmer, 2001). A relevant finding is that the actual pattern of movements constituting SPTs is not critical in determining the recall level, as long as the patterns are appropriate to the accompanying speech (e.g., Cohen & Bryant, 1991; Noice & Noice, 2007). Noice and Noice (2007), for instance, detected the so-called nonliteral enactment effect: Even when the action performed is not literally congruent with the verbal material, but is related at a higher-order level (e.g., at the action goal level), it results in action-enhanced memory for the verbal material.

The literature on gestures has also highlighted that the production of co-speech gestures by a learner is effective on memory when the gestures are produced in the encoding phase. Such facilitating effect of co-speech gestures for the learner may be viewed as analogous to the nonliteral SPT effect. Producing gestures has been shown to play a key role in learning a variety of tasks (Broaders, Cook, Mitchell, & Goldin-Meadow, 2007; Goldin-Meadow, Cook, & Mitchell, 2009). For instance, Goldin-Meadow, Levine, and colleagues (2012) invited the participants in their experiment to perform a mental rotation task and found that producing, rather than observing, gestures promotes learning as long as the gestures convey information that could help solve the task. Gestures have also been shown to play a key role in learning about math (Goldin-Meadow, Kim, & Singer, 1999) and in conservation of quantity tasks (Ping & Goldin-Meadow, 2008).

The literature on the effect of SPTs on recognition and recollection memory for verbal material is mainly concerned with studies in which the participants deal with lists of words (e.g., Cohen, 1989; Frick-Horbury, 2002) or lists of phrases (e.g., Cohen, 1989; Feyereisen, 2006, 2009; Mangels & Heinberg, 2006; von Essen, 2005); few studies have dealt with memory for a discourse or a dialogue (Noice & Noice, 2001, 2007). It is beyond doubt that a text consists of a sequence of sentences, and that a discourse or a dialogue consists, more or less, of a sequence of spoken utterances. But texts, discourses, and dialogues cannot be reduced to sentences and utterances, because their processing requires elements such as a context, cohesion, coherence, and rhetor- ical structure to be taken into account. …

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