Need to Solve a Problem? Try Swinging Your Arms

Imagine that you can change the way you think, just by changing the way your body moves. If this sounds hard to believe, consider this: In a study, researchers at the University of Illinois asked subjects to tie the ends of two strings together. The strings dangled from ceiling rafters and were so far apart that a person grasping one end could not reach the other. To solve the problem, the researchers made tools available — a paperback book, a wrench, etc. — and gave the subjects eight 120-second sessions to solve the problem, with 100 seconds devoted to finding a solution and 20 seconds devoted to exercise. Some subjects were told to swing their arms forward and backward during the exercise session, while others were asked to stretch one arm and then the other to the side while counting backwards, to prevent them from associating the exercise with the problem. By the end of the 16-minute total time, the subjects in the arm-swinging group were 40 percent more likely to solve the problem than those in the stretch group. (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, May 2009)