Body & Brain: A More Immediate Connection
By now most of us have heard of Dr. John Ratey’s research showing the cognitive benefits that follow physical activity, but it seems there may be an even more immediate body-brain connection. Several recent studies suggest that brain function is directly affected by bodily experience. For example, one study showed that participants who held a warm cup of coffee were more likely to find a stranger’s personality “warm” than those without a cup of coffee!
In one study reported on by the researchers themselves in this New York Times article the researchers literally had one group of students think outside the box while another group was placed within the confines of a structure composed of boxes and tubes. The students on the outside were more successful in solving a mental puzzle than those on the inside. According to researchers Suntae Kim, Evan Polman, and Jeffrey Sanchez–Burks, “until recently it was not known whether bodily experiences could help in generating new ideas and solutions to problems. Our research, which will be published soon in the journal Psychological Science, discovered that it can.”
This adds a new dimension to kinesthetic learning. It suggests that physical movement and interaction with the environment not only lead to deeper engagement but have a much more direct effect on cognitive function. Here in our own history department we are building a collection of artifacts for the students to analyze and manipulate. Can simply handling artifacts help students think more insightfully and creatively about questions of history? My guess is it certainly couldn’t hurt.