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Current Research Projects

Below, you can read about two of the projects we are currently running in the Movement & Learning Lab. In addition, Dr. Wakefield is preparing manuscripts on a number of studies, ranging from how children interpret gesture and action used during mathematical equivalence instruction to how choral conductors conceptualize the benefits of singers seeing and doing gesture during rehearsals. All of our work in the lab furthers our ability to understand how gesture supports learning and for whom.

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Understanding how Individual Differences Impact Learning from Gesture

We know that gesture supports learning for many children, but there are always some who do not learn from gesture. In a series of studies with different age groups and populations, we hope to understand the role that (1) the context in which gesture is used and (2) the individual differences children and adults bring to the learning situation impact who learns from gesture.


Some of the individual differences we consider are prior knowledge related to a concept, working memory, propensity to see gesture as meaningful and an individual's own use of co-speech gesture. We also ask whether context matters: are children or teachers performing gesture and how does this interact with individual differences to predict learning?

We ask these questions with first-grade children learning about linear measurement and college students, learning a novel math task. In addition, undergraduate honors students in the lab are considering how monolinguals versus bilinguals benefit from gesture, as well as individuals diagnosed with ADHD.

We have many collaborators on these projects, including Dr. Mary Aldugom (Chicago State University), Dr. Susan Cook (University of Iowa), Dr. Kim Fenn (Michigan State University) and former lab member Sierra Webber on the project with college students and Dr. Eliza Congdon (Williams College) on the project with first-grade students.

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Investigating how Tight Temporal Synchrony between ​Gesture and Speech Emerge across Childhood

One of the unique properties of gesture identified in adults is that the temporal alignment between speech and gesture is much tighter than the temporal alignment between speech and action. This has been cited as evidence that gesture and speech emerge from the same system and may play a role in how children learn from gesture. However, we do not know whether this same phenomenon is present in childhood. In a set of studies over Zoom, we first replicated the original effect in college students and are now testing children between the ages of 5 and 12. Determining how temporal synchrony develops will have theoretical implications for understanding the relation between gesture and spoken language.

This work is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Eliza Condon (Williams College), Dr. Miriam Novak (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine) and former lab member Emma Tumminaro.

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