Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 189–204 | Cite as

Gesture Frequency Linked Primarily to Story Length in 4–10-Year Old Children’s Stories

  • Elena Nicoladis
  • Paula Marentette
  • Samuel Navarro


Previous studies have shown that older children gesture more while telling a story than younger children. This increase in gesture use has been attributed to increased story complexity. In adults, both narrative complexity and imagery predict gesture frequency. In this study, we tested the strength of three predictors of children’s gesture use in a narrative context: age, narrative complexity (measured by discourse connectors), and use of imagery (measured by story length). French-, Spanish-, and English-speaking children between 4 and 10 years participated in this study. Including these three groups allows us to test for the generalizability of our results and for cross-linguistic differences in gesture frequency. All the children watched cartoons and retold the story. The results showed that the length of the story was a significant predictor of children’s gesture rate while age and discourse connectors were not. There were no differences between language groups. One possible in interpretation of these results is that children’s gesture frequency is strongly linked to activation of imagery.


Gesture Narrative development Cross-linguistic comparisons Storytelling Imagery 


  1. Berman, R. A., & Slobin, D. I. (1994). Relating events in narrative: A crosslinguistic developmental study. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  2. Chu, M., Meyer, A., Foulkes, L., & Kita, S. (2013). Individual differences in frequency and salience of speech-accompanying gestures: The role of cognitive abilities and empathy. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 694–709.Google Scholar
  3. Colletta, J.-M. (2009). Comparative analysis of children’s narratives at different ages: A multimodal approach. Gesture, 9, 61–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Colletta, J.-M., Pellenq, C., & Guidetti, M. (2010). Age-related changes in co-speech gesture and narrative: Evidence from French children and adults. Speech Communication, 52, 565–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Demir, O. E. (2009). A tale of two hands: Development of narrative structure in children’s speech and gesture and its relation to later reading skill. Ph.D. dissertation. The University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  6. Efron, D. (1941). Gesture and environment: A tentative study of some of the spatio-temporal and ‘linguistic’ aspects of the gestural behavior of eastern Jews and southern Italians. New York: King’s Crown Press.Google Scholar
  7. Gathercole, S. E., Pickering, S. J., Ambridge, B., & Wearing, H. (2004). The structure of working memory from 4 to 15 years. Developmental Psychology, 40, 177–190.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Goldin-Meadow, S. (1999). The role of gesture in communication and thinking. Trends in Cognitive Science, 3, 419–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Goodz, N. (1989). Parental language mixing in bilingual families. Journal of Infant Mental Health, 10, 25–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Graham, J. A., & Argyle, M. (1975). A cross-cultural study of the communication of extra-verbal meaning by gestures. International Journal of Psychology, 10, 57–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Graziano, M. (2009). Rapporto fra lo sviluppo della competenza verbale e gestuale nella consturzione di un testo narrativo in bambini dai 4 ai 10 anni. Ph.D. dissertation. Università degli Studi Suor Orsola Benincasa, Napoli and Université Stendahl, Grenoble.Google Scholar
  12. Gullberg, M. (2006). Handling discourse: Gestures, reference tracking, and communication strategies in early L2. Language Learning, 56, 155–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hostetter, A. B., & Alibali, M. W. (2007). Raise your hand if you’re spatial: Relations between verbal and spatial skills and gesture production. Gesture, 7, 73–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hostetter, A. B., & Alibali, M. W. (2008). Visible embodiment: Gestures as simulated action. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 15, 495–514.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Hostetter, A. B., Alibali, M. W., & Kita, S. (2006). I see it in my hands’ eye: Representational gestures reflect conceptual demands. Language and Cognitive Processes, 22, 313–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Iverson, J. M., Capirci, O., Volterra, V., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2008). Learning to talk in a gesture-rich world: Early communication in Italian vs. American children. First Language, 28, 164–181.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Jacobs, N., & Garnham, A. (2007). The role of conversational hand gestures in a narrative task. Journal of Memory and Language, 56, 291–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. John, S. F., Lui, M., & Tannock, R. (2003). Children’s story retelling and comprehension using a new narrative resource. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 18, 91–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kataoka, K. (2009). A multi-modal ethnopoetic analysis (Part 1): Text, gesture, and environment in Japanese spatial narrative. Language and Communication, 29, 287–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kendon, A. (2004). Contrasts in gesticulation: A Neapolitan speaker and a British speaker compared. In C. Muller & R. Posner (Eds.), Semantics and pragmatics of everyday gestures (pp. 173–193). Berlin: Weidler Buchverlag.Google Scholar
  21. Kendon, A. (1994). Do gestures communicate? A review. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 27, 175–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kita, S. (2000). How representational gestures help speaking. In D. McNeill (Ed.), Language and gesture (pp. 162–185). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kita, S. (2009). Cross-cultural variation of speech-accompanying gesture: A review. Language and Cognitive Processes, 24, 145–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Krauss, R. M., & Hadar, U. (1999). The role of speech-related arm/hand gestures in word retrieval. In R. Campbell & L. Messing (Eds.), Gesture, speech, and sign (pp. 93–116). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McNeill, D. (1992). Hand and mind. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  26. McNeill, D. (2005). Gesture and thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McNeill, D., & Duncan, S. D. (2000). Growth points in thinking-for-speaking. In D. McNeill (Ed.), Language and gesture (pp. 141–161). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Morsella, E., & Krauss, R. M. (2004). The role of gestures in visuospatial working memory and speech. American Journal of Psychology, 117, 411–424.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Nagpal, J., Nicoladis, E., & Marentette, P. (2011). Does proficiency or task difficulty explain bilinguals’ gesture? International Journal of Bilingualism, 15, 205–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nicoladis, E. (2002). Some gestures develop in conjunction with spoken language development and others don’t: Evidence from bilingual preschoolers. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 26, 241–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nicoladis, E., Mayberry, R. I., & Genesee, F. (1999). Gesture and early bilingual development. Developmental Psychology, 35, 514–526.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Nicoladis, E., Pika, S., & Marentette, P. (2009). Do French–English bilingual children gesture more than monolingual children? Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 38, 573–585.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Nicoladis, E., Pika, S., Yin, H., & Marentette, P. (2007). Gesture use in story recall by Chinese–English bilinguals. Applied Psycholinguistics, 28, 721–735.Google Scholar
  34. O’Neill, D. K., & Holmes, A. C. (2002). Young preschoolers’ ability to reference story characters: The contribution of gestures and character speech. First Language, 22, 73–103.Google Scholar
  35. Özyürek, A., Kita, S., Allen, S., Furman, R., & Brown, A. (2005). How does linguistic framing of events influence co-speech gestures? Insights from crosslinguistic variations and similarities. Gesture, 5, 219–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Parrill, F., Bullen, J., & Hoburg, H. (2010). Effects of input modality on speech-gesture integration. Journal of Pragmatics, 42, 3130–3137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pika, S., Nicoladis, E., & Marentette, P. (2006). A cross-cultural study on the use of gestures: Evidence for cross-linguistic transfer? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9, 319–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rubin, D. C. (1995). Memory in oral traditions: The cognitive psychology of epic, ballads, and counting-out rhymes. New York: OUP.Google Scholar
  39. Schneider, P., & Winship, S. (2002). Adults’ judgments of fictional story quality. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 45, 372–383.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Smithson, L. (2010). Telling tales: Do working memory, gesture production, and bilingualism predict individual differences in narrative length? Unpublished manuscript. University of Alberta.Google Scholar
  41. Smithson, L., & Nicoladis, E. (2014). Lending a hand to imagery? The impact of visuospatial working memory interference upon iconic gesture production in a narrative task. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10919-014-0176-2.
  42. Sulzby, E. (1985). Children’s emergent reading of favorite storybooks: A developmental study. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 458–481.Google Scholar
  43. Wesp, R., Hesse, J., Keutmann, D., & Wheaton, K. (2001). Gestures maintain spatial imagery. American Journal of Psychology, 114, 591–600.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Wigglesworth, G. (1997). Children’s individual approaches to the organization of narrative. Journal of Child Language, 24, 279–309.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Wolff, P., & Levin, J. R. (1972). The role of overt activity in children’s imagery production. Child Development, 43, 537–547.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elena Nicoladis
    • 1
  • Paula Marentette
    • 2
  • Samuel Navarro
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.University of Alberta, Augustana CampusCamroseCanada
  3. 3.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations