Children’s gesture use provides insight into proportional reasoning strategies


Children struggle with proportional reasoning when discrete countable information is available because they over-rely on this numerical information even when it leads to errors. In the current study, we investigated whether different types of gesture can exacerbate or mitigate these errors. Children aged 5–7 years (N = 135) were introduced to equivalent proportions using discrete gestures that highlighted separate parts, continuous gestures that highlighted continuous amounts, or no gesture. After training, children completed a proportional reasoning match-to-sample task where whole number information was occasionally pitted against proportional information. After the task, we measured children’s own gesture use. Overall, we did not find condition differences in proportional reasoning; however, children who observed continuous gestures produced more continuous gestures than those who observed discrete gestures (and vice versa for discrete gestures). Moreover, producing fewer discrete gestures and more continuous gestures was associated with lower numerical interference on the match-to-sample task. Lastly, to further investigate individual differences, we found that children’s inhibitory control and formal math knowledge were correlated with proportional reasoning in general but not with numerical interference in particular. Taken together, these findings highlight that children’s own gestures may be a powerful window into the information they attend to during proportional reasoning.

Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
Michelle Hurst
Michelle Hurst
Assistant Professor

My research interests include mathematical development and variations in performance across contexts.