Wim Pouw did his PhD in social sciences on how hand gestures affect thought processes. This summer he is off to the University of Connecticut on a Rubicon scholarship.
So you’re next to an uncle
at a family gathering.
How do you explain your
“I studied how thinking is affected by actions in learning processes, so how thoughts originate from actions like hand gestures. A general idea is that hand gestures are communicative, but they are much more than that. A nice exotic example is the abacus, a Japanese version of a counting frame. Children or students use it to do complex sums. At a certain point, they are able to do these calculations without the abacus, but they still make the corresponding hand gestures. People who never learned to count on an abacus have much more difficulty with the sums. They probably have a linguistic strategy.”
How will the world benefit from
“I think my thesis contributes to knowledge about how thoughts are affected by actions, which is difficult to express in cognitive sciences. In Psychology, thought processes are usually studied in isolated situations, with no interaction with the environment. If you measure your brain activity in an MRI scanner, for example, movement is difficult.”
Of the people mentioned in your
acknowledgement, who had you
not expected to be so important?
“What makes the acknowledgement in a thesis so special is that it lists everyone you’ve met during your research and how important they’ve been in that process. Take the friendships that resulted. I did a lot of research with another PhD student who started at the same time as me. We regularly enjoyed a beer together. Many good ideas came from that friendship and that beer. That’s something I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.”
What was the first thing you did
when you completed it?
“Nothing special. I was applying for a Rubicon scholarship at the time. My thesis doesn’t have great symbolic value for me. It’s mainly a collection of articles that were already finished. I think that’s why writing a book feels much more like getting a PhD.”
What are you going to do now?
“I really want to do more research. On 1 August I’m off to the University of Connecticut to do my Rubicon research. Until then I’ve got some projects to finish. And pass my driving test. In that small campus town in the woods you really can’t do without a car. That will take some getting used to, because I’m living in Amsterdam now.”
About the cover
“I wanted something abstract. Research theses into hand gestures always have hands on the cover and they aren’t always pretty. Here you can see the suggestion of hands. The idea is that it also suggests the mind and all the components that belong to it, like the body.”