Embodied Persuasion: How the Body Can Change our Mind

Final Remarks

This review has described the various ways in which bodily movements and overt behaviors can affect our likes and dislikes. Importantly, the conditions necessary for each of these fundamental processes have also been specified (e.g., behavior produces its effects by simple processes when people do not think, but behavior affects the direction of the thoughts when people do think). Although a large number of behaviors, from simple to complex, have been examined in persuasion research, many other behaviors remain unexamined. As noted by Lakoff and Johnson (1999), language is replete with metaphors related to the body, many of which could be informative in this regard. For example, evaluation can be linked to dimensions such as distance (e.g., good is close: "I would like to get closer to or approach what I like”) and space (e.g., good is often up: “I am feeling up today"). In addition to these spatial parameters, metaphorical evidence often associates evaluation with other dimensions, such as brightness (e.g., dark is bad), smell (e.g., bad is often stinky: "this movie stinks"), size (e.g., important is big: “tomorrow is a big day”), temperature (e.g., good is warmth: "she is hot"), and weight (e.g., bad is heavy:"“she is weighed down by responsibilities"). Additionally, metaphors related to change (e.g., change is motion "my car has gone from bad to worse lately"), and thinking (e.g., knowing is seeing, "I see what you mean"; understanding is grasping, "I have never been able to grasp numbers") could be equally informative in the domain of embodied persuasion.

Second, most of the behaviors used in the experiments described in this article have very clear meanings attached to them (e.g., nodding is associated with agreement). However, the meaning of behaviors can vary among individuals and situations. For example, nodding can be associated with disagreement in certain contexts (e.g., "yea-yea" responding), and arm extension can be seen as approaching in some settings (e.g., extending the arm to reach a desired object). We argue that if the meaning associated with a behavior changes, the effect of that behavior on subsequent attitudes could also change.

Third, people can not only differ with respect to the meanings associated with behaviors, but can also differ with respect to a wide variety of factors potentially relevant to embodiment. For example, people can vary in the extent to which they attend to and use their behavior in defining their attitudes.

Fourth, it might not be necessary to physically act for behavior to produce attitude change. Indeed, merely believing that a behavior occurred, reminding oneself of past behaviors, imaging future behaviors, or observing the behaviors of others can often produce effects similar to those obtained from actual motor behavior.

Fifth, although it is relatively easy to provide cover stories or to ask participants in experimental settings to act in a given way, it is not so easy to do so in more naturalistic conditions. One way to do this involves acting in the desired way, thus producing mimicry in message recipients. If someone smiles or nods his or her head at you, you are likely to smile and nod back.

Finally, it might be helpful for some people to know that their actions can influence their likes and dislikes. In fact, our bodies can provide us with valuable information in many cases (e.g., elevated heart rate and stomach butterflies when encountering a person informs us that we like that person). However, if people believe that their judgments are somehow being biased or influenced by their bodily actions and do not want this to occur, they may adjust their judgments in a direction opposite to the expected bias (correction processes; Wegener & Petty, 1997). As is the case with other meta-cognitive processes described in this article, such correction processes require extensive thinking to operate.


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Briñol, P., & Petty, R. E. (2003). Overt head movements and persuasion: A self-validation analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1123-1139.

Briñol, P., & Petty, R. E. (2008). Embodied persuasion: Fundamental processes by which bodily responses can impact attitudes. In G. R. Semin & E. R. Smith (Eds.), Embodiment grounding: Social, cognitive, affective, and neuroscientific approaches (pp. 184-207). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Briñol, P., & Petty, R. E. (2009). Persuasion: Insights from the self-validation hypothesis. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 41, pp. 69-118). New York: Academic Press.

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