The Mind and Body Together Lean Towards Truthiness

The results of a study seem to suggest that the human body thinks and acts at the same time, following an intuition which leans towards positive answers.

Medical News Today briefly reports on and interprets a psychological study with the somewhat intriguing title The Mind and Body Together Lean Towards Truthiness.

“‘Truthiness,’ according to television satirist Stephen Colbert, represents the human preference to follow our intuition despite the presence of facts or evidence.” If I may, I would rather take this lovely word to indicate how we mix facts and evidence together to make an intuitive sense, rather than actually opposing intuition and fact.

In the study, psychologists asked college students questions that ranged in levels of vagueness and tracked their corresponding arm movements to clicking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a computer screen, noting that “participant arm movements had lower velocity and curved more toward the alternative response box during ‘no’ responses than during ‘yes’ responses — suggesting that we experience a general bias toward assuming statements are true”. Of course in any kind of creative visualisation we come across the fact that it is impossible to visualise, to call up in our bodies, a negative. Don’t think of a pink elephant!

This wavering between yes and no in the vaguer questions could also be the result, of course, of hesitation, weighing up facts, or a disinclination to give a negative response for various reasons, maybe to do with fear and anxiety, or wondering which answer is expected.

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The results of participants’ cursor movements also suggested that the human brain thinks and acts at the same time; it was not the case that the decision was made in some kind of independently cognitive way first. I assume the researchers meant by this that the decision making process could be followed physically as the arm moved. This kind of thinking process can be observed also in hesitations and gesticulations as people talk, seeming sometimes to be trying to find their train of thought in the air.

I am not quite sure how the research findings as briefly reported produced the conclusions that we prefer to lean towards what feels right intuitively to us — is this just a quick association, body equals feeling? But I found the idea that we tend towards assuming things are true, (what a field for manipulation here!) and that we find this sense of “truthiness” with the complex mind-body whole, to be very “truthy” myself.

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