It’s always fun to come across some studies about memory and brain functions that are a little odd and out-of-the-box. Learning is no much a part of memory, and the more you learn the more brain cell connection you make, so even learning about how your brain works along with your body movements is food for thought.
What we do physically can have an effect on our thinking. When we use our hands, for example, it sets in motion a chain of events. There will be times when problems require a more physical approach. Other times you may want to take more of an abstract or generalized approach that utilizes your memory or the use of body language. The experiments I want to tell you about involved an out-of-the-box way to come to a conclusion. Science doesn’t always have to be serious and technical.
The premise of these experiments may seem a little offbeat, but in these days of hand-held technology devices are very relevant. The point is not that there is more than one way to approach a problem, and neither the use of hand movements or hand position is wrong. Hand movements and hand positions can, however, affect perception, thinking and they way you approach a problem.
Eighty-six American college students took part in the first study. The students were asked questions about “gears” and how they related to one another. For example: “If five gears are arranged in a line, and you move the first gear clockwise, what will the final gear do?” The students were videotaped as the students talked out loud while finding a solution. The crazy part is that half the students wore Velcro gloves that were attached to a board. They were not allowed to use their hands during the experiment. The other half (control group) was not allowed to use their feet. They were allowed to use their hands, however. Although both groups had some restrictions placed upon them, the way they approached their problems different. Those who could gesture and use their hands used abstract mathematical strategies more often.
One hundred eleven British adults were part of the second phase of the same experiment. The results were very similar — gestures build perceptual-motor information that is most likely used in problem solving. Those who could not gesture or use body language chose alternative ways to complete their task.
In the second study, totally different from the first, college students were asked to look at complex geometric patterns and fractals and search for a single letter somewhere within the images. Some of the students held their hands close to the images, while others kept their hands in their laps, far from the images. From previous studies items near our hands tend to take priority. Perception and attention seem to be affected by how close our hands are to an object.
In the first phase of the experiment, the subjects were shown 136 colorful images, eight of which were selected randomly and repeated 16 times, while the other 128 were only shown once. The letters they were searching for were gray “T” or “L.” It’s not surprising that the letters were easier to find the more times the images were presented, and hand position did not have any affect on learning.
In the second phase, different students were shown the same shown-once images as the subjects in phase one; while 16 different versions of the eight repeated images were created with varied color hue changes. The students found it harder to recognize the similarities among identical images that had different color patterns, which could suggest they were too focused on the details and not the similarities of the images. Learning was also slower when hands were held near the images.
In keeping with earlier findings, improvements near the hands are item specific for perception and attention. It may be that this increased perceptual focus may be hard on higher-order functions like learning and memory. This would be consistent with the idea that the two visual streams are largely independent, one mainly concerned with visual-spatial operations, and the other for more cognitive operations (such as object identification).
Since I like to use my hands when talking, I find these studies about the use of hands for certain memory tasks to be very interesting.
Mempowered — How your hands affect your thinking: http://www.memory-key.com/research/news/how-your-hands-affect-your-thinking