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On Top of Words: Spatial language spurs kids' reasoning skills

Think before you speak may be apt advice, but new research suggests that speaking first fosters the ability to think later. Studies of spatial reasoning in deaf children support the idea that words help people encode certain concepts, and also suggest that using spatial words with children boosts overall reasoning skills.

"We learn in a specific context, but language invites us to compare across contexts," says Dedre Gentner of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who presented the work in Boston last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Previous work by Gentner and colleagues found that preschool children perform better at spatial-reasoning tasks when they hear spatial words like "middle," "on top of," or "under" before and during the task. In the latest study, the researchers studied deaf children who hadn't learned conventional sign language to see whether they were at a disadvantage for spatial reasoning.

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