Won't Take That Lying Down? Here's Why
Study Yields Clues on How the Brain Responds When People Are Insulted
Aug. 26, 2009 -- A person's body position may affect how the brain responds
to insults, a study shows.
Texas A&M University researchers studied the brain activity of 23 male
and 23 female university students. They wired them with a stretch cap full of
electronic sensors and then subjected them to critical comments.
The researchers found that body position affected brain responses to the
Students who heard insults while sitting up showed more electrical activity
in the left lateral frontal area of the brain -- which has been correlated with
experiencing anger -- than those who were similarly insulted while lying flat
on their backs or who heard neutral comments while upright, write Eddie
Harmon-Jones, PhD, and Carly K. Peterson, MS, in the journal Psychological
Science. The researchers say it's possible that some undiscovered
physiological process occurs as a result of lying down.
Participants were told they had been randomly assigned to write a short
essay, and that another volunteer would evaluate it. Each student was fitted
with stereo headphones while still sitting upright.
A researcher randomly decided whether the student would continue to sit
upright or be told to recline. The students then heard others rate them with
intelligence scores and comment on their essay and personality.
The students in the reclined position and half of those sitting upright
heard negative ratings about their essays and personalities. Sitting students
also heard neutral ratings.
As soon as feedback stopped, brain activity was recorded by EEG. Then
students completed a report about their emotions.
Just as the researchers had predicted, they detected more sparks of anger in
the brains of students who were sitting up. They also found that after hearing
insulting remarks, reported feelings of anger increased and happiness
decreased. However, there was no difference in emotions between the reclined
and sitting upright positions.
The researchers suggest that a reclined body position may reduce "the urge
to move toward something" in response to an insult.