Co-thought gesturing supports more complex problem solving in subjects with lower visual working-memory capacity
During silent problem solving, hand gestures arise that have no communicative intent. The role of such co-thought gestures in cognition has been understudied in cognitive research as compared to co-speech gestures. We investigated whether gesticulation during silent problem solving supported subsequent performance in a Tower of Hanoi problem-solving task, in relation to visual working-memory capacity and task complexity. Seventy-six participants were assigned to either an instructed gesture condition or a condition that allowed them to gesture, but without explicit instructions to do so. This resulted in three gesture groups: (1) non-gesturing; (2) spontaneous gesturing; (3) instructed gesturing. In line with the embedded/extended cognition perspective on gesture, gesturing benefited complex problem-solving performance for participants with a lower visual working-memory capacity, but not for participants with a lower spatial working-memory capacity.