An article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education describes new research on embodied cognition presented last week at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference.
“Embodied cognition” is the idea that the nature of people’s minds is shaped by the form of their body. Think of how disorienting it is to talk about your right hand while demonstrating with your left, which is something that a parent or teacher might do when facing the person they are trying to instruct. Research has likewise demonstrated a connection between muscle movement and affect: smiling actually causes you to have pleasant thoughts, while frowning leads to unpleasant ones. That great old song standard, “Smile,” gets it right:
. . . Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile
The interesting news coming out of last week’s conference is that eating something sweet causes people to have kinder thoughts. And sucking on something sour makes us grumpy. You’re probably thinking we don’t need science to tell us this. But wait, there’s more. Apparently the metaphors we use also influence our moods. You know the expression “warm and fuzzy” used to describe a treacly feeling of well-being? Well, a warm and fuzzy physical object not only protects us against actual cold drafts but also makes us feel psychologically warmer, too.
So as we head into the last week of February with below-zero temperatures in Wisconsin, just remember this. Wrap yourself in your softest blanket. Watch a funny movie. Eat more chocolate.