Learning stories through gesture: gesture’s effects on child and adult narrative comprehension

Nicole Dargue*, Naomi Sweller

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Through providing an external support to speech, gesture observation may benefit a student’s learning in a variety of areas, including narrative comprehension. Across two studies, we investigated factors that could moderate when gestures are most beneficial to narrative comprehension, including gesture type, task difficulty, and age, in order to help determine when gestures benefit narrative comprehension most. Crucially, observing typical gestures significantly benefited narrative comprehension (measured by specific questions relating to gesture points) compared with atypical or no gestures, which did not differ significantly. When measured through free recall and specific questions, these effects were not moderated by total task difficulty or age. This finding suggests that how beneficial a gesture is for narrative comprehension may depend more on the kind of gesture observed rather than on age or the difficulty of the task. It may be that typical gestures benefit narrative comprehension more than atypical gestures due to the typical gestures being more semantically related to accompanying speech. In a second study, typical gestures were rated as more semantically related to the speech than were atypical gestures. We argue that educators’ use of typical, frequently produced iconic gestures that are adequately semantically related to speech may enhance student understanding.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)249–276
    Number of pages28
    JournalEducational Psychology Review
    Issue number1
    Early online date26 Aug 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


    • narrative comprehension
    • iconic gesture
    • typical gesture
    • atypical gesture
    • learning


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