Thursday, February 4, 2010

Grounded cognition gives your mind a hand

Before you read this, pour yourself a cup of hot tea.

Now, sit up straight. Smile. Hold that warm cup in your hand. Research is showing that these kinds of actions can positively influence what you think about a piece of writing.

"All the states of your body affect how you think. So does the environment," says Lawrence Barsalou, an Emory psychologist and a leading researcher of grounded cognition -- the idea that thought is shaped by bodily states. And vice-versa.

For instance, you may feel anxious about an upcoming presentation. Just thinking about forgetting your speech can produce the same physical stress reactions that occur when you actually are standing in front of a group of people and draw a blank.

"We're just barely beginning to understand the mechanisms, at a detailed and specific level, that operate to produce these experiences," Barsalou says.

We are entering a new era in psychology research, says Barsalou, who is especially interested in how meditation might be used to alleviate stress reactions.

New thoughts on cognition
Gestures may point to speech origins
2010: A science odyssey

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