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To Remember The Good Times, Reach For The Sky

To Remember The Good Times, Reach For The Sky

BrainSimple motor actions, like moving marbles upward or downward between two cardboard boxes, may not seem meaningful.

But a study published April 2010 in Cognition shows that motor actions can partly determine people's emotional memories.

Moving marbles upward caused participants to remember more positive life experiences, and moving them downward to remember more negative experiences, according to Daniel Casasanto (MPI and Donders Institute, Nijmegen) and Katinka Dijkstra (Erasmus University, Rotterdam). 'Meaningless' motor actions can make people remember the good times or the bad.

When people talk about positive and negative emotions they often use spatial metaphors. A happy person is on top of the world, but a sad person is down in the dumps. Some researchers believe these metaphors are a clue to the way people understand emotions: not only do we use spatial words to talk about emotional states, we also use spatial concepts to think about them.

Motion and emotion

To test this link between vertical space and emotion, in a first experiment Casasanto and Dijkstra asked students to move glass marbles upward or downward into one of two cardboard boxes, with both hands simultaneously, timed by a metronome. Meanwhile, they had to recount autobiographical memories with either positive or negative emotional valence, like "Tell me about a time when you felt proud of yourself', or 'a time when you felt ashamed of yourself.'"

When prompted to tell positive memories, participants began recounting their experiences faster during upward movements, but when prompted to tell negative memories they responded faster during downward movements.

Memory retrieval was most efficient when participants' motions matched the spatial directions that metaphors in language associate with positive and negative emotions.

Source: Radboud University Nijmegen

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