Growing up one of my favorite memories is of visiting my uncle Manuel and Aunt Rose’s house for a summer family picnic. He was 100% Portuguese and she, 100% Italian. Their backyard had a Madonna statue shrine. As I look back, it was like taking a trip to what everyone called “The Old Country” but was just across town.
One particular characteristic of their household was that every conversation was passionate, full of intense vocal variance complete with large animated gestures as they spoke. The joke was that my aunt and uncle would be unable to speak if we held their hands in check.
As it turns out, research shows this isn’t far from the truth.
A study by Susan Goldin-Meadow from the University of Chicago published in the journal Language and Cognitive Processes (May 2012) describes an experiment in which participants were asked to remember a series of letters while at the same time explaining their solutions to math problems. Some participants were asked to use explanatory hand gestures while describing their answers, while others were asked to do so without any gestures and a third group made random gestures while providing their explanations.
The result was that the group making the congruent gestures recalled significantly more letters than either of the other groups.
The authors believe that the gesturing itself takes part of the cognitive load off of the brain freeing it to then recall significantly more information in short term memory.
So don’t be afraid to talk with your hands, your memory will be all the better for it!