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Body Movement Influences Attitudes

The Body Controls the Mind

Do we nod yes when we enjoy something, or do we enjoy it because we nod?

In one study, participants evaluated a pen. During this, they were either asked to nod their head yes (vertically) or to nod their head no (horizontally). The group that nodded their head "yes" later liked the pen more.

In another variation of this study, participants listened to music while nodding yes or no. The group nodding yes liked the music more. The same effects were found when people listened to arguments.

In yet another interesting variation of these studies, participants rated objects that were presented on the screen either vertically or horizontally. In the vertical presentation group (which increased yes nodding) participants liked the products more than in the horizontal group (which increases no nodding).

This body of work demonstrates that people have what researchers call "embodied cognition." Basically, most people tend to think their attitudes cause their behavior, but in reality, behavior can also cause attitudes.

In the examples above, this would suggest that most people would think that we like or agree with something, so we nod our heads yes in response. But, research shows that the converse is also true; we also like and agree with things more simply because of head nodding.

Other studies testing embodied cognition have found that making a fist increases perceived power (we don't just make fists because we feel powerful). People also like faces more when pushing a lever towards them to identify them, than when pushing a lever away from the faces to identify them.

As a perhaps more popular example, the "facial feedback hypothesis" stated something similar to this decades ago. That is, that we don't just smile because we are happy, but the mere act of smiling increases happiness. For instance, when participants place a pencil between their lips (making a frown) they like cartoons less than if they hold a pencil between their teeth (making a smile).

All in all, people tend to think that our attitudes cause our behavior, but our behavior (bodily movements) also causes our attitudes and emotions. So, we don't just nod yes or smile because we like something; smiling and nodding yes also make us like something more.