On Oct. 1 at 11 am in the Olmsted Room, Elizabeth Wakefield K‘08, a former Kalamazoo College student who double-majored in psychology and music, gave a lecture on her research concerning actions and gestures.
The lecture, entitled “Using Our Hands to Change Our Minds: How Gesture and Action Shape Cognition” answered two questions regarding actions and gestures: “How does this property influence our interpretation of movement?” and “How does this property influence our ability to learn from movement?”
Wakefield started by discussing the idea that “action is part of human experience.”
“I’m really interested in gestures… and actions we do in the world on objects,” Wakefield said. “Action is performed on objects, gestures occur off objects.”
She explained the first experiment she conducted which involved showing adults three different videos. They were of people picking objects up and putting them in boxes, people doing the same gesture that occurred but above the objects, and people doing the same gesture but without any objects present. Wakefield then explained how she did the same experiment on children. She found that “actions on objects are interpreted in relation to external goals…and describing actions necessitates describing objects,” according to her presentation.
The second experiment she conducted involved seeing whether or not children can connect a work with an action or gesture. Wakefield accompanied her lecture with videos showing the actions she would show children and whether or not they would be able to connect the action or gesture to a name, and then do the action or gesture.
From this experiment, Wakefield said she found that children learn better through action compared to gesture. However, when she conducted the same experiment 24 hours later, she found that the children who had learned through gesture were completing the tasks more successfully than the children who had learned through action. She said that this showed that children generalize their learning more through gesture than action.
Wakefield concluded that both action and gesture “impact learning through incorporation of the motor system.”
“I hope that I’ve convinced you today to think a little more about the actions and gestures you do on a daily basis,” Wakefield said.
“Liz is the embodiment of doing more in four,” said Professor Autumn Hostetter, who introduced the speaker. During her undergrad years at K, Wakefield was a research assistant with three faculty members, studied abroad in Greece, and completed her Senior Individualized Project with Professor Robert Batsell. She has her PhD in developmental psychology and is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago.