Sometimes, when I’m telling my partner a story, his eyes are darting all over the place. It’s not because he’s rude and would prefer to look at anything else in the room but me (well, I hope that’s not why). Rather, it’s because I have a very strong tendency to move my hands—a lot—while I’m speaking.
He’s not the only one who gets distracted by the flailing limbs that accompany the words coming out of my mouth. In fact, my mom has often told me that she thinks I’m just going to up and fly away. If you can relate to this, I have good news. Because as it turns out, there actually is a relationship between your words and your motions—it doesn’t simply indicate that you’d be a good candidate for Broadway.
Susan Goldin-Meadow, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, believes that moving your hands while speaking can decrease “the amount of mental energy you’re expending to keep things in your working memory.” (Which is really quite considerate, isn’t it?) While the exact reason for this connection isn’t fully nailed down, researchers believe a portion of the brain called “Broca’s area” may play a part. Why? Because this section is “turned on” both when someone is speaking and when her hands are in motion.
In addition, several studies Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues conducted indicate this habit may be assisting you not only in learning something new, but absorbing it faster, as well. “The act of gesturing itself also seems to accelerate learning, bringing nascent knowledge into consciousness and aiding the understanding of new concepts,” shares Anne Murphy Paul, author of Brilliant: The New Science of Smart. And, furthermore, it helps you remember that information, too.
So, next time you’re telling a story and accidentally send someone’s water glass flying off the table, you can just say, “Oops—sorry! I was so busy increasing my general knowledge that I didn’t even see that there.” Nobody can fault you for trying to better yourself, right?
Photo of person speaking courtesy of Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images.
Abby works in health education and prevention at a university in Washington, DC. When she’s not trying to make the world a healthier place, you can find her taking selfies with her cat (Mildred Meow Meow), hunting down the city's best grilled cheese, or zipping through the city on her bike, named Libby. Say hi on Twitter.More from this Author