Richard G. Petty, MD

Body Posture and Memory

“Memory moderates prosperity, decreases adversity, controls youth and delights old age.” –Lactantius Firmianus (Roman Rhetorician often known as the "Christian Cicero,” A.D. 260-340)

The Ancients had many methods for remembering factual details: the best known were methods for associating memories with physical places, the columns in a theater, part of the body or body positions.

There a very interesting new study form Florida State University in Tallahassee that examined the impact on autobiographical memory of assuming the same (congruent) or different (incongruent) postures that the person held during the original event.

Response times were shorter when the subjects’ body positions during memory retrieval of  were similar to the body positions in the original events than when the body position was incongruent. Free recall of the autobiographical events two weeks later was also better for congruent-posture than for incongruent-posture memories. This has theoretical implications for the idea of embodied cognition: that the environment plays a role in the formation of cognition, and perhaps also for the two other ideas:

1. That the body can hold memories and

2. Antonio Damasio’s concept of the "somatic marker mechanism" that may provide the neurological mechanism for a crucial psychological concept: theory of mind.

Theory of mind refers to our ability to understand that other people have minds that have desires, beliefs and intentions that are separate form our own. Some experts believe that an inability to fully form a theory of mind underlies some of the problems in autism and schizophrenia.

The fact that specific body postures can be used to improve autobiographic memory may also be one of the mechanisms by which mudras, or symbolic gestures may activate memories and their associated feelings and states of consciousness.

This research follows a study that indicated something that you might already have noticed: positive thoughts are more easily recalled in the upright posture. Slouching tends to make you feel negative and to generate and recall negative thoughts. You may also have noticed how you, or the people around you become more still when they are concentrating on something. Research has shown that when people are successfully engaged in complex cognitive tasks, the normal swaying of their bodies is reduced.

So what are we to make of all this?

If you are trying to recall something that happened to you, adopting the same sort of posture may help your recall. Conversely, some body work to stop you getting into that same position may perhaps lessen recall. And physical stillness may help you focus if you have to engage in a complex cognitive task.

“To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.”
–Chuang Tzu (Chinese Philosopher, c.369-286 B.C.E.)

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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