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The Hand Speaks

Does hand movement while talking help one's memory? Find out on this Moment of Science.

Are you one of those people who move their hands when speaking? In other words, are you a human being? You may think that only annoying people move their hands when they speak, but everyone does it to a greater or lesser degree. Now here’s the surprising part: even blind people do it.

Two researchers, Jana Iverson of Indiana University and Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago, compared the hand gestures made by blind people when speaking with those made by sighted people. They found the gestures were almost the same. They even found that blind people make hand gestures when speaking to other blind people.

This is interesting because neither the speaker nor the listener in those instances has ever seen a hand gesture. Neither one is communicating visually to the other, as you might imagine a hand gesture to be. In other words, we move our hands when speaking for more than just emphasis.

What more? We don’t know . . . yet. But the researchers speculate that moving your hands may help you to store and retrieve memories. They found that when subjects were prevented from moving their hands when speaking, they were less able to recall details of a cartoon they had been shown than subjects who were allowed to move their hands. In other words, we may gesture for our own benefit.

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