5 Ways Physical Gestures Influence Your Thinking

iStock / iStock

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