Sometimes the more we learn, the more we need to know. Over the past few decades, scientists have discovered there are many different internal and external factors influencing how we think, feel, communicate, and make decisions at any given moment.
One new study investigates how our own bodies influence the way we think.
Cognitive scientist Dr. Daniel Casasanto, of The New School for Social Research, demonstrated that quirks of our bodies affect our thinking in predictable ways, across many different areas of life, from language to mental imagery to emotion.
His description of the research is found in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.
According to Casasanto, people come in all different shapes and sizes, and people with different kinds of bodies think differently. Casasanto called this concept the “body-specificity hypothesis.”
As a test of this hypothesis, Casasanto and his colleagues explored the difference in how right-handed vs. left-handed individuals make decisions. Then they looked at whether being right-handed or left-handed might influence judgments about abstract ideas like value, intelligence, and honesty.
Through a series of experiments, researchers discovered that, in general, people tend to prefer the things that they encounter on the same side as their dominant hand.
When participants were asked which of two products to buy, which of two job applicants to hire, or which of two alien creatures looked more trustworthy, right-handers routinely chose the product, person, or creature they saw on the right side of the page, while left-handers preferred the one on the left.
These kinds of preferences have been found in children as young as 5 years old.
But why should our handedness matter when it comes to making such abstract evaluations? It all comes down to fluency, according to Casasanto.
“People like things better when they are easier to perceive and interact with,” he said. Right-handers interact with their environment more easily on the right than on the left, so they come to associate “good” with “right” and “bad” with “left.”
However, this preference for things on our dominant side isn’t set in stone.
Right-handers who’ve had their right hands permanently handicapped start to associate “good” with “left.” Casasanto and his colleagues found a similar change among righties whose “good” hand is temporarily handicapped in the laboratory.
“After a few minutes of fumbling with their right hand, righties start to think like lefties,” said Casasanto. “If you change people’s bodies, you change their minds.”
If true, the implication of hand dominancy and behavior has bold implications. In fact, the body-specificity hypothesis may even play a role in voting behavior – Casasanto points out that many states still use butterfly ballots, with candidates’ names listed on the left and right.
“Since about 90 percent of the population is right-handed,” said Casasanto, “people who want to attract customers, sell products, or get votes should consider that the right side of a page or a computer screen might be the ‘right’ place to be.”