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5 Ways Physical Gestures Influence Your Thinking

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We’re used to thinking about the mind being in control of the body: Think about moving your hand, and your hand moves. But in some situations, the body can have just as much influence on the way you think as the mind has on how you move. Here are five ways physical gestures and movements can influence how you think and feel: 

1. Slouching can make you moody. 

Psychologists from Ohio University found that when people were told to slump forward at their desks during stressful tasks, they reported more negative feelings and felt more insecure about their work-related skills than people who sat up straight. However, the popular idea that “power poses” can make you act more confident is probably a myth. A recent study found that adopting power stances did not affect confident behavior or cause hormonal changes in study subjects.

2. Eliminating frowning can decrease depression. 

Several studies have found that paralyzing a person’s forehead using Botox injections—physically preventing them from frowning—can improve symptoms of depression. When you feel sad, you furrow your brow, but studies have shown that just the act of furrowing your brow can make you feel worse. Not being able to show outward signs of negativity may help minimize the feelings, short-circuiting the negative feedback loop.

3. It's easier to remember actions than words. 

In a 2004 study, psychologists asked children to read sentences about life on a farm. Some kids acted out what they read with toys after reading, while other kids just read the sentences again. Those who had acted out the sentences showed better reading comprehension and remembered more details about the story several days later than those who had been assigned to the rereading group [PDF]. Other research has found that months after a play is over, actors are better at remembering lines they spoke while moving than the ones they recited while standing still.  

4. People tend to like words more if they are easier to type. 

Several recent studies suggest that the increase in computer use is changing our speech, and not just because we’ve started say “OMG!” more. For instance, researchers found that popular baby names tend to be those spelled with letters that are typed with the right hand on the QWERTY keyboard. Since many people are right-handed, these letters may be easier to type. Another study found that people might view words typed mostly with the right hand (like LOL) more positively, though the results were subtle. 

5. Moving can make you more creative. 

In a 2014 Stanford University study, taking a stroll resulted in more creative ideas than sitting in a lab. The results held true even after the walk was over, and for walks in a seemingly uncreative place, like on a treadmill facing a blank wall. That’s probably why people pace when thinking hard.  

Additional sources: How the Body Knows Its Mind: The Surprising Power of the Physical Environment to Influence How You Think and Feel

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This Is the Age When Puppies Reach 'Peak Cuteness'
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All puppies are cute, but at some point in a young dog's life, it goes from "It's so cute I could squeeze it to death" to merely regular cute. But when? According to one recent study in the journal Anthrozoös, peak cuteness hits between 6 and 8 weeks old for many dogs, The Washington Post reports.

Finding out when puppies reach their peak attractiveness to humans may give us insights into how domestic dogs evolved. Researchers from the University of Florida asked 51 students at the school to look at 39 black-and-white images of dogs, who belonged to three different breeds and whose ages ranged from birth to 8 months. The viewers then rated them on a sliding scale of squishability.

The results will sound familiar to dog lovers. Puppies aren't entirely adorable immediately after they're born—they can look a little rat-like—and the participants rated them accordingly. As dogs get older, as much as we might love them, their squee-worthy cuteness declines, as the attractiveness scores reflected. The sweet spot, it turns out, is right around when puppies are being weaned, or between 6 and 8 weeks old.

The participants tended to rate dogs as most attractive when the pups were within the first 10 weeks of their lives. According to the results, Cane Corsos were at their cutest around 6.3 weeks old, Jack Russell terriers at 7.7 weeks old, and white shepherds at 8.3 weeks.

The study only used still photos of a few breeds, and it's possible that with a more diverse sample, the time of peak cuteness might vary a bit. Certain puppies might be cuter at an older age, and certain puppies might be cuter when they're even younger. But weaning age happens to coincide with the time when puppies are no longer getting as much support from their mothers, and are thus at a high risk of mortality. By evolving to attract human support at a time when they're most vulnerable, puppies might have boosted their chance at survival until they were old enough to completely take care of themselves.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Why Our Brains Love Plot Twists
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From the father-son reveal in The Empire Strikes Back to the shocking realization at the end of The Sixth Sense, everyone loves a good plot twist. It's not the element of surprise that makes them so enjoyable, though. It's largely the set-up, according to cognitive scientist Vera Tobin.

Tobin, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University, writes for The Conversation that one of the most enjoyable moments of a film or novel comes after the big reveal, when we get to go back and look at the clues we may have missed. "The most satisfying surprises get their power from giving us a fresh, better way of making sense of the material that came before," Tobin writes. "This is another opportunity for stories to turn the curse of knowledge to their advantage."

The curse of knowledge, Tobin explains, refers to a psychological effect in which knowledge affects our perception and "trips us up in a lot of ways." For instance, a puzzle always seems easier than it really is after we've learned how to solve it, and once we know which team won a baseball game, we tend to overestimate how likely that particular outcome was.

Good writers know this intuitively and use it to their advantage to craft narratives that will make audiences want to review key points of the story. The end of The Sixth Sense, for example, replays earlier scenes of the movie to clue viewers in to the fact that Bruce Willis's character has been dead the whole time—a fact which seems all too obvious in hindsight, thanks to the curse of knowledge.

This is also why writers often incorporate red herrings—or false clues—into their works. In light of this evidence, movie spoilers don't seem so terrible after all. According to one study, even when the plot twist is known in advance, viewers still experience suspense. Indeed, several studies have shown that spoilers can even enhance enjoyment because they improve "fluency," or a viewer's ability to process and understand the story.

Still, spoilers are pretty universally hated—the Russo brothers even distributed fake drafts of Avengers: Infinity War to prevent key plot points from being leaked—so it's probably best not to go shouting the end of this summer's big blockbuster before your friends have seen it.

[h/t The Conversation]

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