Co-Integrate Mathematics Seminar: Kimberly Fenn


Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm


133F Erickson Hall

Gesture during instruction changes problem-solving strategy: Evidence from eyetracking

Kimberly Fenn

Associate Professor, Psychology Social Science, Michigan State University 

The beneficial effect of gesture on learning has primarily been studied in children. Adults, with fully developed language, might be less likely to benefit from gesture. We investigated the effect of gesture on mathematical learning in adults and recorded eye gaze to provide insight into the mechanism by which gesture might influence attention and promote learning. Participants were randomly assigned to either a speech alone or a speech and gesture condition and viewed carefully-matched videorecorded lessons explaining how to solve problems in an abstract symbol system. They were tested on additional problems, and on transfer to a novel system immediately and after a 24-hour retention interval. The participants wore a head-mounted eye tracker on both days. Preliminary analyses reveal that participants tended to learn more in the gesture condition. In both the gesture and no gesture conditions, participants’ gaze to symbols typically anticipated reference to the symbols in speech. To assess differential anticipation across conditions, we analyzed the timing of the first look to the right side of the problem during the explanation. All participants looked to the right side of the equation prior to mention in speech. However, participants in the gesture condition shifted their attention to the right side of the problem significantly later than participants in the no gesture condition.  Listeners seem to be predicting and anticipating where they will need to look, but in doing so, they can lose their coordination with the auditory information. This may be particularly harmful in learning situations where listeners do not have the knowledge they need to make effective predictions. Thus, one way gesture may facilitate learning is by helping learners overcome their expectations.

About the Speaker: I completed my PhD in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Chicago in 2006. After a brief postdoc at the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, I began working at MSU in the department of psychology in 2008.