Sunday, 25 March 2007

Posture affects productivity depending on mood

If you want to work more productively and you're feeling sad, you should slouch; but if you're feeling happy, you should sit up straight. Really. It seems that your posture has an impact on your productivity, depending on the mood you're in.

Apparently "previous studies have shown that someone's emotional state can dramatically affect their performance on analytical tasks and that posture can play a role in this" - known as the "stoop to conquer" effect. "Emotion informs cognition, people whose emotion is inhibited don't perform intelligently," says Breazeal. However, people don't necessarily always sit in the "right" position for their mood."

In particular, studies showed that people are more persistent in trying to carry out tasks and solve problems:
  • when feeling depressed, or primed with a feeling of failure - if, while doing the task, they slouch (or see a slouching person or robot, which encourages them unconsciously to change their own posture in imitation!), or
  • when feeling cheery, or primed for success - if, while doing the task, they sit up straight (or see an upright robot).
So, now we know. It's not quite cognitive heuristics, but possibly it's a useful rule of thumb in life, though I think a lot of us know it instinctively anyway.

The "stoop to conquer" effect was mentioned as a relatively minor issue in an article in New Scientist primarily about robots and their interaction with humans, but I thought it was interesting. I never would have guessed it - it kind of seems counter-intuitive that slouching might make you more productive, if you're feeling low! (pun intended...) I'd love to know why posture affects efficiency in this way.

Is it a good answer to teachers, parents etc. who nag you to sit up straight, then, to say: "No, I'm feeling too depressed"?

Maybe not always. I've found a reference to a learned behavorial science article on posture and mood, which mentions the other side of the coin - that it seems to be easier to be positive and happy, and to remember positive thoughts, if you're sitting upright rather than slumped.

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