Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bodily motions influence memory and emotions

A study in body languageImage via Wikipedia
WHEN talking about our feelings, we often use expressions that link emotions with movements or positions in space. If, for example, one receives good news, they might say that their "spirit soared", or that they are feeling "on top of the world". Conversely, negative emotions are associated with downward movements and positions - somebody who is sad is often said to be "down in the dumps", or feeling "low". 
According to a new study published in this month's issue of the journal Cognition, expressions such as these are not merely metaphorical. The research provides evidence of a causal link between motion and emotion, by showing that bodily movements influence the recollection of emotional memories, as well as the speed with which they are recalled. 

An study done by Dijikstra in 2007 found that assuming the body posture associated with a particular experience can aid recall of the memories of that experience. These studies hint at the embodiment of abstract concepts, and suggest that people who use their bodies in different ways also think differently.  This makes sense when you think about kinesthetic modes of learning.

It is not just posture but also the direction of body language that is important.  The direction of the body language affects the speed with which participants recalled  emotional memories.  Memories with positive emotions were recalled significantly more quickly during upward than during downward marble movements, and vice versa for negative memories.  Participants were also likely to recollect a positive experience such as winning an award when they were making upward movements, and a negative experience such as failing a test when making downward movements. 

Memory recollection is facilitated when the context in which recollection occurs matches that in which encoding took place.  Movements which are completely unrelated to the encoding of emotional memories can also influence their retrieval. 

Thinking involves creating mental simulations of bodily experiences, and that knowledge is represented by partial re-enactments in the brain which activate the same systems associated with real experiences.  

This is all very interesting to me as sometimes I think I am more cut off from my body than many other people.  I don't think that I always am quite aware of my body in space due to sensory integration problems.   So all this movement business that the article is talking about is something that I am not aware of.  I could be evoking the same memories as I move through space or not.  As I go through therapy, I wonder how this will change.  The next round of therapy, the Interactive Metronome  will do more wiring in of the body to the mind.   I will be doing more dance after therapy as I expect that I will be able to keep to the beat better.