Arm Crossing Effect On Persistence And Performance
Arm crossing has been given a lot of attention in nonverbal communication. It has been speculated to be a signal showing defensiveness, rejection, but also vigilance and an unyielding attitude. “Armed” with this speculation, researchers Ron Friedman and Andrew Elliot, University of Rochester, USA sought to test the theory out. They were able to show that by simply crossing your arms across your chest, that persistence increased. This research is the first of its kind to show how a change in posture, can lead to a change in actual behaviour.
The researchers set up the subjects with an impossible puzzle and were then measured for how long they would work at the task before giving up in frustration. One group was instructed to keep their arms uncrossed and the other to keep their arms crossed throughout their attempt. The ones with their arms crossed, worked for 55 seconds, while the other group worked for only 30 seconds before giving up.
A second experiment involved testing subjects with anagram puzzles that actually had solutions. This time the students with their arms folded were able to produce more solutions than the students who sat with their hands placed flat against the table.
The researchers concluded that over time, the repeated pairing of arm crossing with perseverance becomes linked in memory such that the occurrence of one automatically triggers the other. Noted separately, however, is that arm crossing might show itself differently in a social context rather than in a perseverance related context. Arm crossing may have cultural variations as well, suggesting that it has a less universal application. Arm crossing, in an interpersonal context may function to turn others away by evoking defensiveness producing distance and demonstrating differences in opinion, but when inward focusing, serve to boost effort.
European Journal of Social Psychology. 38, 449–461 (2008)