Teaching moral reasoning through gesture



Stem-cell research. Euthanasia. Personhood. Marriage equality. School shootings. Gun control. Death penalty. Ethical dilemmas regularly spark fierce debate about the underlying moral fabric of societies. How do we prepare today's children to be fully informed and thoughtful citizens, capable of moral and ethical decisions? Current approaches to moral education are controversial, requiring adults to serve as either direct (‘top-down’) or indirect (‘bottom-up’) conduits of information about morality. A common thread weaving throughout these two educational initiatives is the ability to take multiple perspectives – increases in perspective taking ability have been found to precede advances in moral reasoning. We propose gesture as a behavior uniquely situated to augment perspective taking ability. Requiring gesture during spatial tasks has been shown to catalyze the production of more sophisticated problem-solving strategies, allowing children to profit from instruction. Our data demonstrate that requiring gesture during moral reasoning tasks has similar effects, resulting in increased perspective taking ability subsequent to instruction.

A video abstract of this article can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v/gAcRIClU_GY