Ron Friedman, assistant professor of psychology at Hobart and William Smith, was recently the subject of a Finger Lakes Times article for turning an observation that coaches frequently cross their arms while standing on the sidelines into a research study to determine whether the stance impacts subconscious thinking. According to the Finger Lakes Times article, Friedman found that, “Over time, certain body positions become associated with specific states of mind, becoming linked in memory. After a while, the occurrence of one triggers the other.” Friedman’s main area of interest in research is studying the role of conscious and nonconscious processes in motivation related to persistence and performance. He received his B.A. in political science from City University of New York, an M.A. and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Rochester. His dissertation was completed in Social-Personality Psychology. The complete text of the article appears below.
Finger Lakes Times Arm-folding isn’t empty gesture, says HWS prof By MIKE MASLANIK • May 20, 2008 GENEVA — When coaches aren’t motivating their players or screaming at officials, many assume a common pose — arms folded across their chest, staring intensely at the field. Far from being a meaningless mannerism, crossing your arms boosts persistence and taps into an unconscious desire to succeed, according to a recent study by a Hobart and William Smith Colleges psychology professor. In two separate studies, University of Rochester students spent more time thinking about anagrams if they sat with their arms folded across their chests than those who did not, said HWS professor Ron Friedman, lead author of the study. “It is well-known in psychology that the way people feel affects their body language,” said Friedman. “In this study, we were interested in determining whether the reverse is also true. That is, does our body language affect the way we feel?” The study, co-authored with University of Rochester psychology professor Andrew Elliot, appears in a recent issue of the European Journal of Social Psychology. In the first study, 41 undergraduates, five male and 36 female, were told to either cross their arms or place their hand on their thighs and asked to solve three anagrams. The first two were easy (“WODN” and “BOROT”) and the third was impossible. The word was Rochester, but with one R removed (“OCHERSTE”). Researchers were not looking for performance, but were instead interested in how much time the subjects spent on the problems. The students with crossed arms persisted longer on the impossible anagram than the hands-on-thighs group by several seconds. In the second study, participants were given a series of solvable anagrams. Volunteers who crossed their arms spent more time on the anagrams and came up with more solutions. The hands-on-thighs group figured out eight problems, while the arms-crossed group got 10. Participants in the experiments were not told why they were asked to cross their arms, Friedman said, and they had no idea that there was any influence at all. He said that over time, certain body positions become associated with specific states of mind, becoming linked in memory. After a while, the occurrence of one triggers the other. Studies have shown that slouching when receiving bad news leads to a depressed mood and that smiling leads to a better mood, he said. What makes Friedman’s study unique, he said, is that it shows how body movements affect behavior, not just moods. “What surprised us was that this persistence effect was so strong, it actually affected student performance on the anagrams,” he said. Friedman said that context and culture play a factor in how body movements effect behavior. Crossing your arms may mean something completely different in other parts of the world, he said, and gestures could lead to different results in different situations. One practical application, he said, could be in the workplace, where either leaning forward or back may have an effect of how people take in information. Friedman said that a key finding in the study is that we have no idea that the position of the body influences state of mind, and vice versa. “Much of our behavior occurs outside of our thinking,” he said. “This is a concept that psychology is just looking into, and this study could be the tip of the iceberg.” firstname.lastname@example.org