Spring 2010: Of Note
Happy is as happy does
By Carol Clark
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 Professor of Psychology Lawrence Barsalou, a leading researcher of grounded cognition—the theory that thought is shaped by bodily states.
Your perceptions, then, can be colored by how you position your mouth (a smile or a frown), hold your body (alert or slouched), move your head (nodding yes or shaking no), and feel in your physical environment (comfortable, too hot, too cold).
“All of these things influence cognition in ways that have never been anticipated,” Barsalou says. “We’re in a situation where we’re trying to understand how the brain works and how cognition works, and we realize we have to work on all these things together.”
Brain and body have long been thought to be intimately connected, especially in Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism. Now, this link can be investigated through scientific research.
“We’re just barely beginning to understand the mechanisms, at a detailed and specific level, that operate to produce these experiences,” Barsalou says.