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Posture & Numbers

November 29, 2011

People tend to underestimate numbers when they lean to the left, and overestimate them when they lean to the right.



Siding with numbers…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Could your posture influence how you think? Cognitive psychologist Rolf Zwaan and his colleagues at the University of Rotterdam in the Netherlands recently tested this idea. They had volunteers estimate numerical quantities, such as the height of the Eiffel tower, while standing on a Nintendo Wii balance board.

ROLF ZWAAN (University of Rotterdam, the Netherlands):

We actually tricked people into believing they were standing straight up when they were actually leaning to the left or to the right. And we found that people were influenced by our surreptitious manipulation of their posture such that they gave lower estimates when they were leaning to the left than when they were leaning to the right.


Zwaan says this jives with earlier research suggesting that our minds tend to associate smaller numbers with the left side of our bodies and larger numbers with the right side. He says other cognitive processes have been shown to be influenced by posture as well. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.