Verbal working memory predicts co-speech gesture: Evidence from individual differences

Maureen Gillespie, Ariel N. James, Kara D. Federmeier, Duane G. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gesture facilitates language production, but there is debate surrounding its exact role. It has been argued that gestures lighten the load on verbal working memory (VWM; Goldin-Meadow, Nusbaum, Kelly, & Wagner, 2001), but gestures have also been argued to aid in lexical retrieval (Krauss, 1998). In the current study, 50 speakers completed an individual differences battery that included measures of VWM and lexical retrieval. To elicit gesture, each speaker described short cartoon clips immediately after viewing. Measures of lexical retrieval did not predict spontaneous gesture rates, but lower VWM was associated with higher gesture rates, suggesting that gestures can facilitate language production by supporting VWM when resources are taxed. These data also suggest that individual variability in the propensity to gesture is partly linked to cognitive capacities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-180
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Gesture
  • Individual differences
  • Language production
  • Lexical access
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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