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Mind-Body Mindblower: Posture Affects Estimates

Leaning to one side may affect your estimates about anything from the height of an object to the frequency of an event. Sophie Bushwick reports

How many Michael Jackson songs do you think became Number 1 hits? How tall do you think the Eiffel Tower is? How good is your posture? Believe it or not, how you sit or stand could affect your answers. Because a new study finds that our estimates are skewed by the position of our bodies. The work is in the journal Psychological Science. [Anita Eerland, Tulio Guadalupe and Rolf Zwaan, Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller: Posture-Modulated Thought, in press]

Dutch researchers rigged a Wii Balance Board to subtly tilt left, right, or remain flat while students stood on the board and answered estimation questions. In order to prevent the students from perceiving a bias, they were told to stand up straight—and a screen informed them that they were upright even when their bodies were actually leaning to one side. When the board tilted so that the participants leaned left, their estimations were smaller than when they were standing up or leaning right.

The fact that posture affected participants’ answers indicates that the decision-making process isn’t as rational as it may feel. Amazingly enough, unconscious factors like tilting your body can also tilt your best guess.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]    

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