Science-- there's something for everyone

Monday, November 21, 2011

Physical leanings can affect intellectual leanings

On a standard number line, numbers increase as you progress from left to right.  People therefore tend to associate smaller numbers with the left hand side and larger ones with the right.  Researchers from Erasmus University Rotterdam, led by Anita Eerland, wondered whether leaning one way or another could affect people’s estimations of amounts.  You won’t be surprised to learn that it could.

The psychologists placed 33 undergraduate volunteers on Wii Balance Boards that were falsely set to indicate that the subjects were standing upright even when they were really leaning to the left or right.  While balanced, the participants were asked to estimate a series of quantities, such as the height of the Eiffel Tower.  Subjects who were leaning to the left consistently gave smaller estimates than those either standing upright or leaning to the right.

I’ve written before about how people tend to look leftward when thinking of small numbers and rightward when thinking of larger ones (there’s that number line again).  In this case, unconsciously leaning to one side or another may influence one’s thoughts about numbers and amounts.