A recent article from Canwest News Service said that recent research conducted at Hobart and William Smith College in New York state, has found that the “mere act of folding your arms increases perseverance and activates an unconscious desire to succeed.”

Now the first response of people when they see someone with his/her arms folded, is to think back to their classes on non-verbal behaviour and think, “Oh, that person in being defensive”. And it is true that frequently the folded arms gesture indicates an unwillingness to agree with what a speaker is suggesting.

However, it now appears that something else might be in play here as well, and the most interesting part of the research is that not only do our non-verbals show what we might be thinking, but our non-verbals might also trigger a psychological state that may create what we think.

The folded arms folks in the research study spent more time on an impossible-to-solve anagram (word scramble), and in another study came up with more correct solutions to a puzzle than those who were asked to sit with their hands on their thighs.

Usually we think that the psychological state leads to body movement, but it appears that this works both ways.

What this suggests, then, is that we may have a range of other alternatives to use to modify our moods and mental states. (Besides food!)

Method actors appear to have understood this for years. In order to “get into” the mood of the character being portrayed, the actor will adopt the appropriate posture. If the character is sad, depressed, or lonely, then the actor will begin by adopting a stooped position, head down, shoulders slumped, etc. That body posture creates an internal feeling in the actor which s/he is then able to convey to the audience.

Remember the song from, I think, Sound of Music – Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect, I whistle a happy tune, etc. Looks as if the songwriter had it right.

Next time you want to change your mental state, try changing your body posture first and see what effect is has on your mood. It might be easier than trying to talk yourself out of a bad mood.

© 2008, Pitsel and Associates Ltd.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Patricia Pitsel is a Psychologist, Educator, and Human Resource professional. As well as counseling, particularly in the fields of stress, anger, and depression, Pat also conducts training programs in Conflict Management, Interpersonal Communications, Creative Problem Solving, Time Management, Organizational Effectiveness and Humour in the Workplace. Most recently she has developed programs in the topics of Bullying in the Workplace and Pandemic Planning. Dr. Pitsel's enthusiasm and sense of humour have made her a frequent speaker at conferences and conventions, where she has been known to keep people awake for as long as several minutes at a time. You can learn more about Dr. Pitsel and her services at her website, www.pitsel.com