Speaking with hands to boost memory

Jews articulate a lot while talking. We often speak with our hands. And this is fine. A more interesting question is evolutionary: what purposes does expressive body language serve? Or in other words, does it make sense for more stoic people to become more expressive? Disclaimer: for reasons I do not understand, there are no conclusive results and all current research results are controversial.

What is expressive body language?

My personal body language is somewhat average. It would be considered expressive in cold counties and reserved in a warmer climate. Many of my friends are much more expressive. They move their hands, all over, their pitch goes up and down, and they roll their eyes. They can talk while eating, but they sound more convincing when they can really move – like stars of south American soap operas. Does this expressive body language serve a role? You are welcome to read more here, and here

The warm climate and long hands

There are many cultural differences between cold and warm climates. Two reasons come to mind: a scarcity of food and energy preservation.

Evolutionary living in cold climates results in shorter hands, feet, and nose to reduce surface area to volume ratio. Women are more beautiful because the food was scarce and polygamy was a huge burden. The population was scarce, and independence was highly valued.

Living in warmer climates results in increased production of melatonin against sunlight damage, There is a huge competition between men for women, so men compete to dominate the conversation. Since many people had to live together, there is a huge focus on cooperation and community, like the African concept of ubuntu.

It should not surprise that cultures associated with warmer climates are more expressive due to evolutionary pressure. Moreover, the body structure is more suitable for expressive body language as it was not forced to preserve energy in cold winters.

Possibly personal qualities are more dominant than cultural qualities. Moreover, the cultural qualities are not genetic: when families immigrate their communication style changes.

Ethos and patos

Traditionally, persuasion involves ethos (credibility), logos (logic), and pathos (emotion). By performing these three elements competently, a speaker can enhance their persuasive power. To be persuasive the body language must be somewhere between the state of the audience and the ultimate pathos.

If we compare this to clothing, salesmen are advised to be clothed slightly better than their audience. A large disparity will generate reduced credibility, e.g. “He is not one of us and his interests are different”. In a similar way, mirroring the body language of the audience maximizes credibility and establishes rapport. Orators avoid insincere gestures by involving the entire body as much as possible in the movement and matching facial expressions to it.

This means, that the entire body should be involved in the articulation of conveying a clear message. Typically it happens instinctively without us noticing.

And for pathos, our emotions need to be contagious. This means that orators may drive themselves into an open emotional stance, display the emotion with full body language, expect the audience to mirror the body language, and thus anticipate the emotional involvement of the audience.

Being emotionally involved, the audience will remember much more than being bored.

Articulation drives emotions, but does it drive memory?

There were several studies on revisiting memory structures using open vs covert articulation. Open articulation means saying things allowed, while covert articulation means a sort of subvocalization. Usually, covert articulation provides more effective long-term results. Why?

My intuition is simple. We say things to get them out of our system. Our thoughts and emotions are processed into the cultural heritage of our community. Then we are not obliged to carry the knowledge ourselves.

So open articulation does not drive memory as fast as covert articulation. Preparing for a speech quietly we often memorize things better than actually articulating a speech. Articulation works more on the clarity and pathos of the speech rather than memorability.

But why doing something active is more memorable?

It is well known that if we speak in front of an audience the experience is more memorable than almost any other kind of learning. Moreover, the more active our learning is the better we remember. This has to do not just with active recall, but also with unpredictable feedback. The predictability of the feedback is important. For example, some studies show that if we issue a painful procedure on ourselves it is x6 or even x8 less painful than when this procedure is issued by another person.

So the focus here is not only on active recall but also on somewhat objective feedback.

Body state memory

Memories are associative, and sometimes they get associated with particular moods and body language. Recreating that specific body language and mood may trigger the correct memories. In this sense, nuanced and expressive body language may be an effective context both for memorization and recall. The downside is also clear: we should experience a large range of emotions to access the relevant memory cues. Actors on stage often do that. For most of us, we are kind of improvising more or less successfully. If we fail to recreate the correct body language we might be unable to recall the memories that we want.

Handwriting as body language

There is an additional point I want to make. Our mindset and body language are not reflected by typing but are strongly reflected in handwriting. To make notes more memorable it is a good idea to supplement searchable printed notes with the emotional handwritten diary. Some of the feedback comes from the pen (preferably a flexible golden tip fountain pen) and the choice of ink and paper. Another feedback comes from reviewing the handwriting after some time.

If you must type, then consider using emojis for emotional articulation.

Persistence wins

Usually, persistence is advantageous.

  1. Via mirroring our partners the behavior is culturally persistent and credible
  2. Getting feedback enhances persistence. Unless we get feedback, covert articulation may be more effective.
  3. We are better off articulating with the entire body, using the same contagious body language for a message
  4. It is best to memorize and recall in the same mindset. Moreover, the mindset and body language can serve as effective recall cues.



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