In cognitive science, everyone seems to be talking about embodied cognition; a concept involving the claim that states of the body modify states of the mind [1]. As seen in a previous post, it has been observed that body posture can affect, at least briefly, our subjective feelings of power, our physiology with regards to hormone levels, and also our behavior [2].

This finding supports the embodied cognition hypothesis by showing the short-term effects of postural change. But what about long-term effects? Could body posture influence a cognitive system such as autobiographical memory?

Can body posture influence autobiographical memory?

Researcher Katinka Dijkstra and her research group at Florida State University wanted to test if autobiographical memory could be, to some extent, embodied or influenced by body posture [3]. To this end, Dr. Dijkstra and her colleagues carried out a study [3] in which participants were asked to retrieve memories from specific past experiences while adopting certain body positions. When deciding which memories from events in the past participants were to retrieve, researchers chose six everyday situations that are often associated with typical body postures and that were likely to have been experienced by all participants. Thus, participants were asked to remember a time they…

  • … went to the dentist office,
  • …played sports,
  • …opened the door for a visitor,
  • …were at a concert and clapped their hands,
  • …waved at someone,
  • …placed their hand on their heart.

In this way, participants were placed in a certain body position and, while maintaining this position, were asked to retrieve a memory either congruent or incongruent with the posture in which they were placed (for example, in a congruent body position, researchers told participants to lie down in a recliner for the dentist memory; on the contrary, in an incongruent body position, participants were told to stand up with the hands on the hips for the dentist memory).

Two filler items were included so that participants could not predict the purpose of the study, as well as to make subsequent recall more difficult: participants were asked to retrieve a memory of an event that happened yesterday, and an imaginary event.

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