Tuesday, December 26, 2006

What you DO affects what you THINK

Body movement effects thinking - implications for UI ...

"What our users DO with our products--or even what they see someone else do--has a bigger effect on their brains than we might believe. How we move (or imagine moving) our bodies changes our thoughts. And if there's a mismatch between thought and physical action, brains don't like it. Whether you're designing interfaces or instructional materials, you can't afford to ignore the research on this.

The rest of this post won't make sense unless you do the following exercises, so... you've been warned.


1) Say the word "zeal" out loud. Twice, clearly.

2) Without changing the position of your mouth and lips, imagine yourself saying "zeal." Make sure you "hear" it.

3) Now--this is the important one--open your mouth as wide as you possibly can, keep it open, and imagine yourself saying the word "zeal."

So, what happened when you tried to imagine saying "zeal" with your mouth wide open? Did the state of your physical body--in this case your mouth--affect your ability to think?


1) Tighten your whole body, grit your teeth, clench your jaw, tense the muscles in your shoulders and arms, and clench your fists. Hold that position and imagine yourself pushing a piece of big heavy furniture across the room.

2) Now relax all your muscles. Let them go as limp as you can, unclench your jaw, relax the face, shoulders, hands, all the way down. Picture yourself lying on a beach listening to the sound of the waves. KEEP THAT RELAXATION in your body for the next step.

3) Holding that completely relaxed position, imagine yourself pushing a piece of big heavy furniture across the room. No matter what, do NOT let your muscles tense up.

What happened? Did the state of your muscles affect your ability to think?

Both of these exercises are from neuroscientist Richard Restak's latest book, The Naked Brain. From the book:

"Our mental processes are sufficiently tethered to our bodily senses that we have difficulty with situations when the brain and other parts of the body aren't in sync."

Even more dramatic, in a test measuring the association of arm posture and attitude, he demonstrates that the way you hold your arms affects how you feel about items you encounter. Apparently even just imagining items while your arms are extended in the "pushing away" position can cause you to like those items less than if you imagined them while your arms were in a flexed "bringing-to me" position.

One experiment he describes:

"Half of the participants in the experiment were asked to push a lever away from them if they reacted positively to a particular word but pull it toward them if the word gave rise to negative associations, while the other half of the participants were told to do the opposite, pulling forward with positive words and pushing away with negative words. Overall, people were faster to respond to positive words when they were pulling instead of pushing the lever, and faster to respond to negative words when they were pushing rather than pulling the lever."

In another experiment, half the participants were told simply to push a lever the instant they saw a word on the screen, regardless of any like or dislike. The other half were told to pull a lever the instant they saw a word. You can imagine what happened... those asked to push the lever reacted more quickly to negative rather than positive words, and those asked to pull reacted more quickly to positive words.

And of course scientists have found evidence now that simply thinking about an action--or watching someone else do the action--activates the same brain regions that would be involved in actually doing it yourself.

I'm sure you can imagine the implications, including one of the key design principles known as natural mapping, outlined so well by Don Norman in The Psychology of Everyday Things (the title was later changed to "The Design of Everyday Things).

A quintessential example of mapping for those new to design:"    (Continued via Creating Passionate Users)    [Usability Resources]

Curtain Switch - Usability, User Interface Design

Curtain Switch


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