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Does your body take abstract thoughts literally?

Here’s something that hypnotists and neurolinguistic programmers have been using for years: your body often reflects your abstract thoughts in physical form.  For example, if you tell someone to imagine tilting back a picture of himself, then he tends to feel more relaxed — ‘laid back’.

Turns out that scientists have been uncovering evidence that this kind of thing is happening all the time and with great complexity.  Natalie Angier of the New York Times has written a great summary of these fascinating findings which is quite eye-opening (did your eyes just open wide?):

The theory of relativity showed us that time and space are intertwined. To which our smarty-pants body might well reply: Tell me something I didn’t already know, Einstein.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that when people were asked to engage in a bit of mental time travel, and to recall past events or imagine future ones, participants’ bodies subliminally acted out the metaphors embedded in how we commonly conceptualized the flow of time.

As they thought about years gone by, participants leaned slightly backward, while in fantasizing about the future, they listed to the fore. The deviations were not exactly Tower of Pisa leanings, amounting to some two or three millimeters’ shift one way or the other. Nevertheless, the directionality was clear and consistent. Continued

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