Tag Archives: embodied cognition

Expansive Body Language Decreases Power for Some

Lora E Park Bunting

Lora E Park Bunting

Expansive body postures and feelings of power are related for some cultures, but not all, according to SUNY’s Lora E. Park Bunting and Lindsey Streamer with Li Huang of INSEAD and Columbia’s Adam D. Galinsky.

Lindsey Streamer

Lindsey Streamer

They built on much-cited work by Columbia’s Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap with Amy J.C. Cuddy of Harvard, demonstrating the posture-power connection, by evaluating three expansive postures among Americans and East Asians:

  • Hands spread on a desk
  • Upright sitting
  • Feet on a desk
Li Huang

Li Huang

Park and team demonstrated that “embodied emotion” depends on the posture and its symbolic meaning within the prevailing cultural context.

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Both Americans and East Asians rated the feet-on-desk pose as least consistent with East Asian cultural norms of modesty, humility, and restraint.
In contrast, when Americans assumed this posture, they experienced greater power activation and action orientation.

This effect was reversed for East Asians when they demonstrated the feet-on-desk pose:  They showed less power activation and action orientation than Americans in this position.

However, when Americans and East Asians assumed hands-spread-on-desk and upright-sitting postures, they reported a greater sense of power than when they held a constricted posture (sitting with hands tucked underneath their thighs).

Albert Mehrabian

Albert Mehrabian

Changes in a person’s mood, emotion, and feelings expressed by changes in body posture was first demonstrated by Albert Mehrabian and John T. Friar of UCLA.

They asked nearly 50 volunteers to sit as they would in addressing another person in a variety of imagined scenarios.

Mehrabian and Friar considered relationships between Communicator attitude and gender as well as Addressee status and gender in relation to eye contact, interpersonal distance, head orientation, shoulder orientation, leg orientation, arm openness, leg openness, and hand, foot, and trunk relaxation.

Positive attitude was demonstrated by a slight backward lean of the torso, close distance, and greater eye contact.
When communicating with “high status” individuals, Communicators provided more eye contact and less sideways leaning.
Female Communicators used a more constrained posture with less arm openness when communicating with “higher status” individuals.

Dana Carney

Dana Carney

Carney and team demonstrated that these postural changes elicit measurable neuroendocrine changes.
When people in the U.S. assumed in high-power nonverbal displays, their  testosterone increased, their cortisol decreased and they reported increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk.

Andy Yap

Andy Yap

University of Florida’s Andrea Kleinsmith, P. Ravindra De Silva at Toyohashi University of Technology and University College London’s Nadia Bianchi-Berthouze demonstrated these cross-cultural differences in perceiving emotion and subjective experience from body posture.

Andrea Kleinsmith

Andrea Kleinsmith

Kleinsmith and team used static posture images of affectively expressive avatars or “embodied agents” to test emotion recognition by volunteers from three cultures. From these findings, they developed cultural models for affective posture recognition.

Andrea Kleinsmith-avatarsThese results suggest both the impact of changing body postures to elicit different feeling states, and caveats when adopting expansive postures to activate power while interacting across cultural groups.

Ravindra De Silva

Ravindra De Silva

Encouragement to “Think Big, Play Big” may require specific recommendations for culturally appropriate action.

-*How do you demonstrate power when interacting with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds?

Nadia Bianchi-Berthouze

Nadia Bianchi-Berthouze

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Clothing Influences Thinking and Behavior, not Just Others’ Perceptions

A previous post highlighted the influence of the body on thinking, through “embodied cognition.”

Hajo Adam

Hajo Adam

An extension of this idea is “unclothed cognition,” the impact of clothing on thinking and behavior, according to Rice University’s Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University.

Adam and Galinsky considered the symbolic meaning of clothing and wearer’s physical experience by evaluating the impact of wearing a lab coat on participants’ task performance.

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Before the experiments, volunteers said in a survey that they associated “attentiveness” and “carefulness” with “a lab coat.”
Next, participants completed a Stroop Test, a task that requires selective attention to differentiate words in incongruent colors (“red” presented in green letters), while wear a lab coat or their street clothes.

Volunteers performed better when they wore a lab coat than when they completed the same tasks while wearing street clothes.

In other experiments, Adam and Galinsky described the lab coat to some participants as a “doctor’s coat” and to others as a  “painter’s coat.”
Volunteers who wore a “doctor’s coatperformed better on sustained attention tasks and were better able to discriminate features in nearly-similar images, than those who wore a  “painter’s coat.” 

Joshua Davis

Joshua Davis

Clothing’s symbolic meaning as visual communication can influence the viewer’s attributions and the wearer’s behavioral alignment with the role suggested by clothing, argued Joshua I. Davis of Barnard College, who studied the effect of BOTOX injections on emotional experience.

Sandra Forsythe

Sandra Forsythe

Clothing’s impact on others’ evaluation of the wearer was further detailed by Sandra Forsythe, now of Auburn University collaborated with University of Tennessee’s Mary F. Drake, and Charles E. Cox.
They videotaped simulated job interviews of women wearing various styles of dress, and found that more than 75 human resources professionals recommended hiring female job applicants who wore more “masculine” attire than those wearing other styles of dress.

Norah Dunbar

Norah Dunbar

Clothing’s influence on the viewers’ impression of others’ credibility was investigated by University of Oklahoma’s Norah E. Dunbar and Chris Segrin of University of Arizona guided by their colleague Judee Burgoon‘s expectancy violation theory.

Chris Segrin

Chris Segrin

Two instructors gave lectures in undergraduate college classes, wearing either expected “appropriate” attire for this role, or wearing unconventionally casual clothing.
The instructors also provided either high interpersonal support or less rewarding interactions.

Judee Burgoon

Judee Burgoon

Dunbar and Segrin found that students were less influenced by unexpected attire when the instructor provided more social rewards.
They suggested that interpersonal demeanor can be even more influential than clothing in determining impressions of credibility and likability.

Similarly, the impact of clothing on judgments of competence and achievement for both students and teachers in Ohio high schools was demonstrated in research by Bowling Green State’s Dorothy Behling with Elizabeth Williams.

Anat Rafaeli

Anat Rafaeli

Clothing’s influence on impression formation and related organizational dynamics is based on attributes, homogeneity and conspicuousness, posited Anat Rafaeli of Technion, and Boston College’s Michael Pratt.

Michael Pratt

Michael Pratt

Clothing has been considered an important influence on others’ perception of the wearer, and Adam and Galinsky’s studies offer evidence that clothing can affect the wearer’s actual task performance.

-*How has clothing changed your workplace behavior and performance?
-*How do others treat you different depending on your attire?

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Symbolic Gestures Can Prompt Behaviors, Shape Perceptions

Michal Parzuchowski

Michal Parzuchowski

Non-emotional gestures can “prime” abstract concepts, like “honesty,” and prompts people to behave consistent with these ideas, according to Michal Parzuchowski and Bogdan Wojciszke of University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Sopot, Poland.

Bodgan Wojciszke

Bodgan Wojciszke

They evaluated a symbolic gesture, putting a hand on one’s heart (“HOH”), which is associated with “honesty” in Poland, where the studies were conducted.

In the U.S., this gesture has a different meaning: Patriotism when enacted during The Pledge of Allegiance.
This distinction demonstrates cultural variation between specific gestures, and suggests opportunities for related research in other geographies.

HOHv NeutralVolunteers who performing this gesture were described as appearing more “honest” and trustworthy than when the same people enacted a neutral control gesture.

In addition, participants who performed the hand-over-heart gesture behaved more honestly when they provided more honest assessments of others’ attractiveness and refrained from cheating, compared to volunteers who performed neutral gestures.

Bodily experience associated with abstract concepts can influence both perceptions of others, and one’s own behaviors to align with the intangible idea – and the effect doesn’t depend on peoples’ emotional states.

More than 35 Polish volunteers listened to parts of a recorded job interview in which the applicant made several low-credibility statements like “I have never been late for work” and “I have never argued with members of my family.”

As they listened, participants viewed the speaker’s photograph.
Half of the participants saw a photo showing the speaker with both of hands placed behind the back, whereas the other half saw an image of the speaker with right hand over the heart (HOH).
Then, all participants rated the speaker’s credibility.

Participants rated the speaker pictured with hand over heart as more believable, suggesting that the gesture, locally associated with honesty, leading volunteers to perceive the person producing the signal of honesty “…as more credible, even if her statements are not very credible.”

Other volunteers rated the appearance of women in photographs, previously rated by independent judges as “moderate to low attractiveness”.
The women were described as the experimenter’s friends, to “prime” social desirability for a favorable evaluation from participants.

HOH-hipResearchers asked volunteers to enact gestures to “increase their cognitive load”:  Half the volunteers completed ratings while holding their right hand over their hearts whereas the other participants placed hand on their hips.

Participants who held their hand over their hearts rated less attractive faces significantly lower than volunteers who held their hand on their hips, suggesting that they the “’Hand-over-Heart’ gesture influenced people to respond more honestly,“…even if it meant being impolite.

HOJH v shoulderIn another study, more than 50 volunteers solved math problems and reported number completed .

Some wrote solutions with their dominant hands, but others held a “breathing monitor band” by either:

  • Putting right hand on left shoulder, or
  • Right hand over heart.

Participant had an incentive to exaggerate the number of completed problems because researchers told volunteers that one randomly-selected participant would be receive cash prize for each correct answer.

Those who held their hands on their shoulders claimed they solved 45 percent more problems than either of the other two groups, whereas people who held hands over hearts accurately reported completed problems, suggesting that temptation to embellish problem-solving performance was overridden by acting consistently with the gesture associated with honesty.

Bodily sensations influence the way we think, feel, and act…(and) a bodily sensation may activate the concept associated with it; this in turn may shape information processing, and behavior,” concluded Parzuchowski and Wojciszke.

These findings validate the idea of “embodied cognition” – bodily experience and states can influence thinking and likewise, thinking can affect bodily experience and states.
Other examples include judgments of height, weight, importance influenced by physical experiences.

Anita Eerland

Anita Eerland

People whose native language is read and written from left to right typically make smaller estimates of weight and height when leaning to the left (“posture-modulated estimation”) because their language leads them to represent numbers along a continuum with smaller numbers on the left and larger numbers on the right (“mental-number-line theory”), according to Anita Eerland now of Open University of the Netherlands with Max Planck Institute’s Tulio Guadalupe, and Rolf Zwaan of Erasmus University.

Tulio Guadalupe

Tulio Guadalupe

They induced people to lean slightly to the right or to the left by asking them to stand on a Wii Balance Board while answering estimation questions.
Eerland and team changed the directional lean as subjects leaned left or right, or stood upright without mentioning changes in position

When participants were leaned to the left, they produced significantly smaller estimates were than when they leaned to the right.

Eerland-Zwaan Wedding

Eerland-Zwaan Wedding

These results may vary for participants whose native language is read and written from right to left, and Eerland and team suggested replicating this study with other language groups.

Lynden Miles

Lynden Miles

Thoughts can lead to changed body position, found University of Aberdeen’s Lynden Miles, Louise Nind, and C Neil Macrae, when they asked volunteers to think about the future.

Imagining future events caused participants to shift their body position to lean forward, whereas they leaned back when asked to think about the past.

Similarly, qualitative dimension ratings can be affected by physical experience.

When volunteers judged a proposal’s importance, they rated it more momentous when holding a heavy object, according to University of Amsterdam’s Nils B. Jostmann, Daniël Lakens of Utrecht University and Institute Superior de Ciências do Trabalho e da Empresa, Lisbon’s Thomas W. Schubert.

European participants guessed the value of foreign currency in Euros while recording answers on either a heavy clipboard or a light-weight clipboard.
Those who held the lighter clipboard estimated lower average values.

In addition, volunteers estimated the importance of University students participating in making foreign study grant decisions.
Participants who held the heavier clipboard rated student participation as more important.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff

Jostmann and team experimentally demonstrated the impact of body, physical objects, and abstract metaphors on thinking, originally posited by University of California, Berkeley’s George Lakoff and Mark Johnson who linked

  • Control and Mood to direction:

“I have control over him,”
“I am on top of the situation,”
“He’s at the height of his power,”
“He ranks above me in strength,”

“I’m feeling up today”
“He is under my control,”
“His power is on the decline.

“I’m feel down in the dumps.”

  • Love, interpersonal connection to physical force

“I could feel the electricity between us”
“There were sparks
“They gravitated to each other”

  • Anger to heat, pressure

“He’s hot under the collar
“She said it in the heat of anger

John Bargh

John Bargh

Similarly, trustworthiness was associated with the physical experience of warmth when volunteer participants judged a new acquaintance as trustworthy after only a brief interaction when participants held a cup of warm coffee instead of a cold beverage, according to Yale’s John Bargh.

Embodied cognition” is one explanation for the interactive influence of symbolic thought, movement, and bodily experience on one’s behavior and peoples’ perceptions of others.

-*What metaphors and symbolic gestures affect your behavior?

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Universal Body Map Pinpoints Where Emotions are Experienced

Lauri Nummenmaa

Lauri Nummenmaa

Emotions are associated with physiological changes in specific body regions, such as increased heart rate, sweaty palms, or startle response, according to Aalto University’s Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, and Riitta Hari, with Jari Hietanen of University of Tampere.

Enrico Glerean

Enrico Glerean

Nummenmaa and team showed emotion-laden words, videos, facial expressions and stories to more than 700 participants in Finland, Sweden and Taiwan, who then reported body regions that “felt different” after they viewed the emotion-evoking media.

Riitta Hari

Riitta Hari

Many people described the physical experience of emotions with metaphors including:

  • “Cold feet” to signal hesitation
  • “Heartbroken” to describe disappointment
  •  “Shivers down the spine” to indicate fear,
Jari Hietanen

Jari Hietanen

according to Durham University’s Zoltán Kövecses, Gary B. Palmer then of University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Rene Dirven then of University of Duisburg-Essen.

Zoltán Kövecses

Zoltán Kövecses

Nummenmaa’s team controlled for these linguistic representations by evoking emotional experiences with guided mental imagery from:

Then, volunteers reported bodily sensations they experienced during the emotion induction and rated physical sensations they expected people displaying different emotions would experience in their bodies.

Nummenmaa and colleagues found distinctly different body areas associated with emotional experiences of happiness, contempt, love, and other feelings, with consistent results across nationalities.
They represented regions of greatest sensation associated with specific emotions with a computer-generated topographical body map.

The team proposed that emotions are represented as “culturally universal categorical somatotopic maps,” and sensing emotion-triggered bodily changes is required to perceive basic and complex emotions.Somatopic Emotion Map

Top row displays “basic” emotions:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Disgust
  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • SurpriseBottom row displays “complex” emotions:
    • Anxiety
    • Love
    • Depression
    • Contempt
    • Pride
    • Shame
    • Envy

Happiness was a “full-body experience,” with increased sensation throughout the body, but some emotions were experienced in specific regions.

Christian Keysers

Christian Keysers

Likewise, most basic emotions, like anger and fear were associated with sensations of elevated activity in the upper chest area, corresponding to changes in breathing and heart rate, reported University of Groningen’s Christian Keysers and Valeria Gazzola with Jon H. Kaas of Vanderbilt.

Valeria Gazzola

Valeria Gazzola

In addition, all evoked emotions increased sensations in the head, reflecting changes in the facial area by muscle activation, skin temperature, tearing, and thoughts of emotional events.

Jon Kaas

Jon Kaas

Approach-oriented emotions,” including anger and happiness, were associated with increased upper limb sensation whereas depression was linked to decreased limb activity and sensation.
Disgust was felt in the digestive system and around the throat.

Positive emotions, including happiness, love, and pride, clustered in one group.
In contrast negative emotions diverged into four separate groups based on linguistic analysis and sensed body location:

  • Anger and fear
  • Anxiety and shame
  • Sadness and depression
  • Disgust, contempt, and envy.

Surprise was seen as neither a negative nor a positive emotion, yet it was distinctly different from neutral emotion.

Emotional metaphors appear connected to actual physiological experience of emotions, even when researchers controlled for familiar linguistic stereotypes and “conventional wisdom.”

-*What discrepancies have you observed between emotion descriptions and physical experience of emotion?

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Symbolic Practice Improves Memorization, Performance

Edward Warburton

Edward Warburton

Expert ballet dancers are skilled performing artists with strong non-verbal communication competencies.
In addition, they are efficient learners of complex three-dimensional sequences, who master cognitively-challenging novel tasks under time constraints and with high expectations of quality performance.

Margaret Wilson

Margaret Wilson

Symbolic practice of these demanding tasks through “marking” can improve performance and reduce the mental strain of learning, mastering, and performing at an expert level, and may be applicable to enhancing other types of performance.

Molly Lynch

Molly Lynch

Former professional ballet dancer Edward Warburton of University of California, Santa Cruz collaborated with UCSC colleague Margaret Wilson  and their counterparts at University of California, Irvine, Molly Lynch and Shannon Cuykendall to investigate the impact of dancers performing an abbreviated version of  choreography during rehearsal by “marking” to conserve energy and to aid recall of complex routines.
One example is marking using a finger rotation to represent a turn.

Shannon Cuykendall

Shannon Cuykendall

Warburton and team compared the quality of performances by dancers who rehearsed by “marking” and by performing the full choreography.

Guided by the “embodied cognitive-load hypothesis,” they reasoned that if marking provided only reduced physical effort, then there should be no difference in the quality of performance between marking and full-effort rehearsals.

In contrast, they found that the performances rehearsed by “marking” were superior, suggesting that marking’s symbolic practice provides cognitive as well as physical benefits.
Marking reduced the cognitive load during rehearsal to allow more effective memory encoding.

David Kirsh

David Kirsh

David Kirsh, University of California San Diego further investigated the assertion that “dance is embodied thought” and that the body is an instrument of cognition by collecting video and interview data as University of Cambridge research fellow Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance company developed a new choreographic sequence.

Wayne McGregor

Wayne McGregor

Kirsh reported that marking was more effective than mental simulation without symbolic movement in enhancing performance.
He noted that marking is “physical thinking,” a simplified representational vehicle for thought, and a form of thinking because it is a:

  • Gestural language for encoding aspects of a target movement
  • Way to prime neural systems involved in the target movement
  • Method to increase precision in mentally projecting aspects of the target movement.

External representations like marking, diagrams, illustrations, instructions reinforce memory through other sensory channels like vision or audition, providing “scaffolding” to enhance recall.

These varied symbolic representations also enhance cognitive power because they:

  • Reduce the “costs” of making inferences and thoughts
  • Are a shared thought “object”
  • Create lasting referents
  • Facilitate repeat representation at other times and places
  • May be more intuitive than cognitive representations
  • Enable information encoding and “projection” to form complex thought structures

Warburton and team suspect that other symbolic rehearsal techniques like whispering, gesturing, and sub-vocalizing could provide similar performance improvements in other areas such as language learning, and are currently investigating these applications.

-*How effective have you found symbolic representations in reducing “cognitive load” and improving performance?

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