It’s well-known that when we’re in a good mood, our style of walking tends to reflect how we feel: we bounce along, shoulders back, swinging our arms in style.
Sometimes, just from our gait, it’s more obvious to other people how we feel than to ourselves.
Now, a new study finds that it also works the other way around: people who imitate a happy style of walking, even without realising it, find themselves feeling happier (Michalak et al., 2015).
The study had participants walking on a treadmill after looking at a list of positive and negative words.
While on the treadmill each person’s gait and posture was continuously measured and fed back to them visually.
On the screen they had to try and move a bar either one way or the other by changing their walking style.
Although they didn’t realise it, walking in a happy way made the bar move in one direction and walking in a depressed way moved it the other.
Nikolaus Troje, who co-authored the study, explained:
“They would learn very quickly to walk the way we wanted them to walk.”
Afterwards, they were asked to write down as many of the positive and negative words that they’d been shown earlier.
Those who’d been walking in a happy, upbeat way remembered more of the positive words, suggesting they were happier.
The study also found that those who walked in a slumped, round-shouldered, depressed way, remembered more of the negative words.
This ties in with research on people who are depressed: they have a strong tendency to remember negative events, rather than the positive.
A bias towards recalling negative events is part of the vicious cycle that perpetuates a depressed state of mind.
“If you can break that self-perpetuating cycle, you might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients.”
So: shoulders back, swing those arms, and let’s see you bounce along!
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Robert Couse-Baker