You can use your body to help you think.
That’s the conclusion suggested by a recent study in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. According to the study, the type of physical movement you engage in—the way you move your body—can affect a your ability to solve a problem.
The study provided yet another evidence of the link between the body and the mind. It showed that engaging in exercise can help you understand and solve complex problems. If you exercise regularly, you already know that exercise generally helps you think more effectively.
The equation goes like this:
Physical activity = clarity of thought
What this study tells us is that we can’t divorce our minds from our bodies. Although ever since Descartes, there’s been a tendency to think that the brain is disconnected to the body.
Yet the truth is that the way you think is affected by your body. So states the University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who conducted the study with postdoctoral researcher Laura Thomas.
In the study, subjects were asked to solve a problem—in this case, tying the ends of two strings together that dangled from ceiling rafters, too far apart for a person grasping one string to reach the other.
The subjects were given a total of eight, two-minute sessions to solve the problem. They had 100 seconds that were devoted to the solution, interrupted by 20 seconds of exercise.
They were given specific directions for the exercise. One group was instructed to swing their arms forward and backward, while the other was directed to alternately stretch one arm, and then the other, to the side. Both groups were told to count backwards by thee while exercising to prevent them from connecting these activities to the problem of the strings.
The result was that the arm-swinging group was 40 percent more likely to solve the problem than the group of arm-stretchers.
Why? Because the solution to the task at hand required swinging one of the strings. The researchers concluded that swinging the arms in a particular way activated a part of the brain that dealt with swinging motions. Swinging their arms unconsciously led the people into considering the same type of motion to solve the problem.
The moral is:
Move your body.
That’s the quickest fix for getting your brain unstuck. Not to mention boosting brainpower.
So, the next time you’re stuck get up and get your body moving! Stretch, jog in place, go for a walk, do sit-ups—do whatever you want. It doesn’t have to be a complete work out. Even a few minutes of physical activity will help clear out the cobweb from your brain.
Actually, just doing something different may be enough to shift gears and break the logjam, but exercise gives you added benefits, such as greater mental clarity.
Reference: Thomas, L. E., & Lleras, A. (in press). Swinging into thought: directed movement guides insight in problem solving. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.