Directed movements of the body can, outside of conscious awareness, guide higher-order cognitive processing, according to a new study, conduced by University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras with Vanderbilt University postdoctoral researcher Laura Thomas. PhysOrg reports:
Some subjects were told to swing their arms forward and backward during the exercise sessions, while others were directed to alternately stretch one arm, and then the other, to the side. To prevent them from consciously connecting these activities to the problem of the strings, the researchers had them count backwards by threes while exercising...
The subjects in the arm-swinging group were more likely than those in the stretch group to solve the problem, which required attaching an object to one of the strings and swinging it so that it could be grasped while also holding the other string. By the end of the 16-minute deadline, participants in the arm-swinging group were 40 percent more likely than those in the stretch group to solve the problem.
"By making you swing your arms in a particular way, we're activating a part of your brain that deals with swinging motions," Lleras said. "That sort of activity in your brain then unconsciously leads you to think about that type of motion when you're trying to solve the problem."
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio said, "The mind is embodied, not just embrained." This study demonstrates once again the important link between our mind and body, or "embodied cognition."
You can think on your feet quite literally. So, next time you feel stuck trying to solve a problem, start moving. Your body may guide your brain to an unexpected solution.
This study is described in the article "Swinging Into Thought: Directed Movement Guides Insight in Problem Solving" by Alejandro Lleras and Laura Thomas, appearing in an upcoming issue of Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. To read the full report and watch the videos of the problem-solving and exercise sessions, click here.