The role of gesture in language development and evolution.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Psychology

Abstract

People naturally produce gestures when they speak. Little is still known about the role these gestures play in children's language development. My research focused on the role of iconic gestures - gesticulations that accompany speech and illustrate what is being said. For instance, you can wiggle your index and middle fingers to depict "walking" or bring your hand to your mouth as if holding a glass to depict "drinking". Children understand these iconic gestures by age 3 and my PhD research suggested that seeing adults produce these gestures while speaking is formative for children's language learning. Studying the ways we can stimulate vocabulary growth in preschool-aged children is very important, because the vobulary size and skills of children at this age are major predictors of later school success.

During the fellowship, I will collect data from one experiment with 3-year-old children that will help us to better understand how seeing iconic gestures facilitates word learning. I will visit local nurseries to play a computer-based word learning game with 96 children. I will publish my research findings from this experiment and from my PhD dissertation in two top-tier scientific journals in developmental psychology and I will present those research findings at one international conference on cognitive development, in Budapest, Hungary.

I will also develop a Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellowship proposal that extends my PhD research. I will design a series of lab-based experiments that help us investigate how parents can use nonverbal communication (e.g. facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures) to teach their child new words. I will propose to analyse body position of the parent and child (face-to-face or side-by-side) and eye contact, touch, and gestures.

Moreover, I will visit two internationally leading research groups to develop collaborative research on mother-child interactions. I will visit Simone Pika's biocognition lab, which has collected video recordings of naturalistic social interactions between chimpanzee mothers and their young living in the wild. I will also visit with Susan Goldin-Meadow's gesture lab, which has collected video recorings of naturalistic interactions between parents and children in their family homes. I will gain access to selected parts of these unique datasets and further develop my ideas for a funding proposal. In my future research, I would like to compare the use of gesture in mother-child interactions in humans and great apes, which could tell us more about the origins of human communication. I will develop a Marie-Curie Global Fellowship application with the two hosts that proposes a series of comparative studies.

I will communicate my research to the general audience in five public engagement activities. First, I will mobilise a team of researchers to speak to parents at the NEC Baby Show in Birmingham. More than 17,000 parents attend this event over the course of three days to prepare for the arrival of their new baby. I will inform parents about the importance of child development studies, which leads parents to value child research, and allows them to share their experiences with researchers. I will create an information leaflet for parents to take home, with general information about my research and what a visit to the University involves. Second, I will visit family events at 19 local libraries to talk to parents about the importance of child development research. Third, I will visit Baby Sensory sessions at the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry to inform parents there as well, so that I can reach a wider audience. Fourth, I will publish a digital newsletter that provides information about recent findings in developmental studies on language and gesture. Finally, I will regularly update the social media pages of Warwick Research with Kids Group (Facebook and Twitter), so that followers can receive updates about my proposed research activities.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description I have conducted an experiments in the research lab at the University of Warwick and in local nurseries and preschools. I tested 56 children between 36-50 months of age. It is well documented that around this age, children find it quite difficult to generalize novel verb meanings. Using a computer-based fun task for the children, I taught them novel verbs with either pointing gestures that focused their attention on the screen or iconic hand gestures that focused their attention on the verb referents. I showed that iconic hand gestures are more beneficial for for children's verb learning than pointing gestures. In fact, only children who saw me gesturing iconically learned and generalised the verbs in the task successfully.

I have submitted an abstract on this work to the Budapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development and I have presented it as a poster on 3rd January 2019. I have also submitted a 45-page manuscript on this work to Child Development, a top-tier journal in the field of developmental psychology. I have also submitted a long abstract to the Child Language Symposium which is the largest event on the study of child language, and it will be held at Sheffield University in July 2019.

I will also prepare compliment slips for the nurseries and preschools who took part in my study, so that they can communicate the findings from my study to their staff members and to the parents of children who took part.
Exploitation Route Parents, caregivers, nursery staff, teachers, speech and language therapists can use my findings to stimulate children's vocabulary development before they reach the school age. This is important as vocabulary size and language skills at the preschool age are very strong predictors of later academic success.
Sectors Education

 
Description Budapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development (BCCCD) 2019 Conference Regsitration Fee Waiver
Amount € 200 (EUR)
Organisation Central European University 
Sector Academic/University
Country Hungary
Start 01/2019 
End 01/2019
 
Description Funding: Marie Sklodowska Curie Global Fellowship - Acronym: ORIGES - Title: The origins of gestural communication in humans and chimpanzees.
Amount € 264,669 (EUR)
Funding ID Proposal number: 883427 
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 07/2020 
End 06/2023
 
Description Simone Pika at the University of Osnabruck 
Organisation University of Osnabrück
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The collaborator hosted a visit to her lab in the University of Osnabruck, where we collaboratively worked on a Marie Sklodowska Curie Global Fellowship application. The collaborator also granted me access to her unique database of chimpanzees living in the wild.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting a lab visit and spending time meeting with me and writing the grant application. I also gained access to chimpanzee data from the collaborator's PhD student / lab at the University of Osnabruck. This was the first time I ever worked with non-human primate data and it was an excellent learning experience.
Impact A Marie Sklodowska Curie Global Fellowship Application, which was successful. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary and combined research from the areas of gesture studies, developmental psychology, and primate communication.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Susan Goldin-Meadow at the University of Chicago 
Organisation University of Chicago
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The collaborator hosted a visit to her lab in the University of Chicago, where we collaboratively worked on a Marie Sklodowska Curie Global Fellowship application. The collaborator also granted me access to her unique database of naturalistic caregiver-child interactions.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting a lab visit and spending time meeting with me and writing the grant application. I also gained access to all the lab spaces, materials, and a subset of the data from the collaborator's gesture lab at the University of Chicago. I also presented my research in one of the lab meetings and I attended all seminars and lab meetings during my visit, which made this research visit an excellent learning and networking experience.
Impact A Marie Sklodowska Curie Global Fellowship Application, which was successful. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary and combined research from the areas of gesture studies, developmental psychology, and primate communication.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Coventry Library Information Services - Engagement during library events (rhyme time, baby showers) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Through a self-created collaboration with the Coventry Library and Information Services, we have access to events organised specifically for parents with children 0-4 years of age. During the Rhyme Times and Story Times events we approach parents to speak to them about the importance of child research. In doing so, we raise awareness about the child development studies conducted at the University of Warwick and at the same time, we can recruit new families for research.

The dates on which we visited local libraries to represent the University's Warwick Research with Kids Group at these events are:
18 December 2018
19 December 2018
6 February 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://cid.coventry.gov.uk/kb5/coventry/directory/service.page?id=8PZih2x-hP8
 
Description Facebook & Twitter Accounts for Warwick Research with Kids Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I engaged with users (parents, study participants, early years practitioners, academics, general public) via a Facebook and Twitter (Twitter: https://twitter.com/warks_group, @warks_group) accounts of the Warwick Research with Kids Group. I posted 148 tweets and gained 120 followers on Twitter (258 followers total) between 01/10/2019-30/09/2020. On Facebook, I posted 124 unique posts and gained 115 page likes, 126 page follows (226 followers total), and 6 recommendations from parents who visited the university for my study.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://www.facebook.com/warksgroup/
 
Description Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry - Sensory Play Days 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Through a self-created collaboration with the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in the city centre of Coventry, we have access to the Sensory Play Days, specifically for parents with children 0-4 years of age. During this event we approach parents to speak to them about the importance of child research. In doing so, we raise awareness about the child development studies conducted at the University of Warwick and at the same time, we can recruit new families for research.

The dates on which we visited local libraries to represent the University's Warwick Research with Kids Group at these events are:
17 January 2019
18 January 2019
14 February 2019
15 February 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.theherbert.org/whats_on/115/sensory_play_days
 
Description NEC Baby Show Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I brought together a team of students, research assistants, researchers, and academics to speak to the general public about our research at the NEC Baby Show in Birmingham. This three-day event (17-19 May 2019) is attended by parents and parents-to-be from all over the UK, with 17,000 visitors each year. We have informed parents about the language development studies at the University of Warwick and explained to them the importance of valuable child research. Parents also shared their valuable experiences with us. We invited parents to sign up to our family database so that they can receive invitations for future research. We signed up 186 families at this event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.thebabyshow.co.uk/nec
 
Description Newsletter about Child Development Research for Parents involved with the Warwick Research with Kids Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact A newsletter describing updates about the latest child development research from the Warwick Research with Kids Group was distributed to parents who are signed up to the family database of the research group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Website Warwick Research with Kids Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact I built and maintained a web page for the Warwick Research with Kids Group, hosted within the University of Warwick's web environment. I described the different labs and research topics studied within the group, as well as the leading academics of each lab. The link "Sign up to our database" leads to a digital form that I created for parents to leave their contact details, so that they can be contacted in the future about participating in valuable child research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/psych/research/language/cdlab/