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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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Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
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Can You Figure Out This Newly Discovered Optical Illusion?
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)

Ready to have your mind boggled? Take a look at the image above. What shape are the lines? Do they look like curves, or zigzags?

The image, spotted by Digg, is a new type of optical illusion published in the aptly named journal i-Perception. Discovered by Japanese psychologist Kohske Takahashi, it’s called the “curvature blindness illusion,” because—spoiler—the contrast of the lines against the gray background makes our eye see some of the lines as zigzags when, in fact, they’re all smooth curves.

The illusion relies on a few different factors, according to the three experiments Takahashi conducted. For it to work, the lines have to change contrast just at or after the peak of the curve, reversing the contrast against the background. You’ll notice that the zigzags only appear against the gray section of the background, and even against that gray background, not every line looks angled. The lines that look curvy change contrast midway between the peaks and the valleys of the line, whereas the lines that look like they contain sharp angles change contrast right at the peak and valley. The curve has to be relatively gentle, too.

Go ahead, stare at it for a while.

[h/t Digg]

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Vivid Imagery Makes Poetry More Pleasurable, According to Psychologists
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Contrary to what English teachers led us to believe, most readers don’t judge poetry based on factors like alliteration and rhyme. In fact, a new study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts suggests that vivid imagery (i.e. sense-evoking description) is what makes a poem compelling, according to Smithsonian.

To determine why some poetic works are aesthetically pleasing while others are less so, researchers from New York University and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, had more than 400 online volunteers read and rate 111 haikus and 16 sonnets. Participants answered questions about each one, including how vivid its imagery was, whether it was relaxing or stimulating, how aesthetically pleasing they found it, and whether its content was positive or negative.

Not surprisingly, taste varied among subjects. But researchers did find, overall, that poems containing colorful imagery were typically perceived as more pleasurable. (For example, one favorite work among subjects described flowers as blooming and spreading like fire.) Emotional valence—a poem's emotional impact—also played a smaller role, with readers ranking positive poems as more appealing than negative ones. Poems that received low rankings were typically negative, and lacked vivid imagery.

Researchers think that vivid poems might also be more interesting ones, which could explain their popularity in this particular study. In the future, they hope to use similar methodology to investigate factors that might influence our enjoyment of music, literature, and movies.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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