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Backward thinking can be good . . .

May 7, 2009 | 11:55 am

This is weird: According to a team of Dutch scientists, walking backward helps people think more clearly.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, tested the ability of 38 men and women to  quickly name the colors in which different words were displayed. During the tests, participants were told to step four paces to the left, right, backward or forward. In a subset of the trickier trials (ones where the words didn't relate in any way to the colors they were displayed in) performance was quickest when the subjects stepped four paces backward.

"Backward locomotion appears to be a very powerful trigger to mobilize cognitive resources," conclude the authors, of Radboud University Nijmegen. "Thus, whenever you encounter a difficult situation, stepping backward may boost your capability to deal with it effectively."

In case you were wondering why on Earth the researchers conducted such a nutty-seeming experiment to begin with: It's part of a larger field of study of the way body movements alter people's thinking/emotions. Flexing or extending the arms, for example (the motions involved in either pulling or pushing) can make someone more apt to like or dislike something, respectively, researchers have reported. Pushing and backing away are both avoidance actions -- such actions are "usually performed in the context of aversive or problematic conditions that require enhanced control in order to focus on relevant information and to ward off negative consequences," the authors say.

Or whatever. Just walk backward. Watch where you're going.

--Rosie Mestel  


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