In cognitive science, everyone seems to be talking about embodied cognition; a concept involving the claim that states of the body modify states of the mind . As seen in a previous post, it has been observed that body posture can affect, at least briefly, our subjective feelings of power, our physiology with regards to hormone levels, and also our behavior .
This finding supports the embodied cognition hypothesis by showing the short-term effects of postural change. But what about long-term effects? Could body posture influence a cognitive system such as autobiographical memory?
Can body posture influence autobiographical memory?
Researcher Katinka Dijkstra and her research group at Florida State University wanted to test if autobiographical memory could be, to some extent, embodied or influenced by body posture . To this end, Dr. Dijkstra and her colleagues carried out a study  in which participants were asked to retrieve memories from specific past experiences while adopting certain body positions. When deciding which memories from events in the past participants were to retrieve, researchers chose six everyday situations that are often associated with typical body postures and that were likely to have been experienced by all participants. Thus, participants were asked to remember a time they…
- … went to the dentist office,
- …played sports,
- …opened the door for a visitor,
- …were at a concert and clapped their hands,
- …waved at someone,
- …placed their hand on their heart.
In this way, participants were placed in a certain body position and, while maintaining this position, were asked to retrieve a memory either congruent or incongruent with the posture in which they were placed (for example, in a congruent body position, researchers told participants to lie down in a recliner for the dentist memory; on the contrary, in an incongruent body position, participants were told to stand up with the hands on the hips for the dentist memory).
Two filler items were included so that participants could not predict the purpose of the study, as well as to make subsequent recall more difficult: participants were asked to retrieve a memory of an event that happened yesterday, and an imaginary event.
Each participant was asked to retrieve three memories in a congruent body position and three other memories in an incongruent body position (filler items were always prompted in the same body position). The order of memories and the order of congruent vs. incongruent positions was randomized so as to avoid possible order effects, and sessions were recorded on audio and video tape to assess response times.
In addition, two weeks later, participants were asked unexpectedly about the memories they had talked about in the experiment in a free recall task.
On the one hand, researchers observed that responses for retrieved memories in the congruent condition were faster than those in the incongruent condition because response timesere significantly shorter when the posture was consistent with the implied position of the memory than when it was not. On the other hand, they also confirmed that the amount of retrieved memories two weeks later was significantly greater for congruent memories than for incongruent memories.
With these results, researchers concluded that when the body position adopted during the experiment was congruent with the one in the original experience, there was easier access to and long-term retention of autobiographical memories, and that these findings provided evidence for embodied cognition.
Implications for clinical practice
As mentioned in an earlier post, given that body posture seems to be a factor that can modulate cognitive performance [3,4], it is then also an important aspect to take into account when conducting an accurate assessment of the cognitive status of the patients, and also when improving cognitive rehabilitation processes to their maximum potential. Findings like these can be very useful to improve neuropsychological assessment and stimulation of patients in clinical practice.
By: Lidia García Pérez
Translated by Silvia Duque
- Wilson & Golonka (2013). Embodied cognition is not what you think it is. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 58. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00058
- Carney, D.R., Cuddy, A.J.C. and Yap, A.J. (2010). Power posing: brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21(10) 1363-1368.
- Dijkstra, K., Kaschak, M.P. & Zwaan, R.A. (2007). Body posture facilitates retrieval of autobiographical memories. Cognition, 102, 139-149.
- Smith, P.K., Jostmann, N.B., Galinsky, A.D., & van Dijk, W.W. (2008). Lacking power impairs executive functions. Psychological Science, 19, 441–447.
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