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How do our bodies influence our mental processes?

How do our bodies influence our mental processes?

New research on how we think, feel, communicate and make decisions shows the processes aren’t just confined to the brain — our bodies could have a powerful influence as well.

In work reviewed in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, cognitive scientist Daniel Casasanto of The New School for Social Research found bodily quirks affect our thinking across many different areas of life, including emotion, language, and mental imagery.

Casasanto’s “body-specificity hypothesis” dictates that people with different kinds of bodies think differently, and to prove it, he and his colleagues conducted experiments to explore whether being right-handed or left-handed might influence our judgments about abstract ideas like value, intelligence and honesty.

The results showed that overall, people tend to prefer things they encounter on the same side as their dominant hand. For example, when volunteers were given a choice of two products to purchase, two job applicants to hire, or which of two alien creatures looked more trustworthy, people who were right-handed typically chose the product, person or creature on the right side of the page, while left-handed people did the opposite.

“People like things better when they are easier to perceive and interact with,” Casasanto explains in a press release. In other words, right-handers interact with their environment more easily on the right than on the left, so beginning when they’re as young as 5 years old, they associate “good” with “right” and “bad” with “left.”

The process can even be reversed — right-handed people who’ve permanently or temporarily lost the use of their dominant hand soon begin associating “good” with “left.”

“If you change people’s bodies, you change their minds,” Casasanto says.

And his work could have ramifications outside a laboratory. “Since about 90 percent of the population is right-handed,” he adds, “people who want to attract customers, sell products, or get votes should consider that the right side of a page or a computer screen might be the ‘right’ place to be.”

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