Spencer Kelly, a gesture researcher and an associate professor of psychology at Colgate University in New York, said children from more privileged households might live in homes with more objects, such as toys and furniture. As a result, they may "provide more opportunities for parent and child to use gestures when talking about things."
It's also possible that the children might have more opportunities for activities with their families, because there may be fewer children and more free time, Kelly said. "Much research has shown that these sorts of social activities help children learn language."
Why does all this matter? "Above and beyond what children and parents say with their words, what they do with their hands is important for how children develop language," Kelly said. "These results fit with recent research demonstrating that hand gestures enhance learning and memory in educational contexts, such as gaining new math skills or acquiring new words in a foreign language."
In the big picture, gesture appears to influence vocabulary, "which is a strong predictor of students' success," said Rowe. "If they're lagging in vocabulary, they might not have much of a chance to catch up."
The next step, she said, is to see if helping kids gesture more will help them develop better vocabulary.
Learn more about language development in babies from the American Pregnancy Association.
SOURCES: Meredith L. Rowe, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar, University of Chicago; Spencer Kelly, Ph.D., associate professor, psychology, Colgate University, Hamilton, N.Y.; Feb. 13, 2009, Science
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