Swinging their arms helped participants in a new study solve a problem whose solution involved swinging strings, researchers report, demonstrating that the brain can use bodily cues to help understand and solve complex problems.
The study is the first to show that a person’s ability to solve a problem can be influenced by how he or she moves.
“Our manipulation is changing the way people think,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who conducted the study with Vanderbilt University postdoctoral researcher Laura Thomas, his former graduate student. “In other words, by directing the way people move their bodies, we are – unbeknownst to them – directing the way they think about the problem.”
Even after successfully solving the problem, almost none of the study subjects became consciously aware of any connection between the physical activity they engaged in and the solution they found.
“The results are interesting both because body motion can affect higher order thought, the complex thinking needed to solve complicated problems, and because this effect occurs even when someone else is directing the movements of the person trying to solve the problem,” Lleras said.
The new findings offer new insight into what researchers call “embodied cognition,” which describes the link between body and mind, Lleras said. …