• Gesture;
  • Working memory


In numerous experimental contexts, gesturing has been shown to lighten a speaker’s cognitive load. However, in all of these experimental paradigms, the gestures have been directed to items in the “here-and-now.” This study attempts to generalize gesture’s ability to lighten cognitive load. We demonstrate here that gesturing continues to confer cognitive benefits when speakers talk about objects that are not present, and therefore cannot be directly indexed by gesture. These findings suggest that gesturing confers its benefits by more than simply tying abstract speech to the objects directly visible in the environment. Moreover, we show that the cognitive benefit conferred by gesturing is greater when novice learners produce gestures that add to the information expressed in speech than when they produce gestures that convey the same information as speech, suggesting that it is gesture’s meaningfulness that gives it the ability to affect working memory load.