Weight affects our perceptions of importance

We often use weight as a metaphor for importance, describing something as a ‘weighty issue’ or dismissing an argument as ‘not holding much weight’ but a new study suggests that this is not just a figure of speech.

A research team found that they could alter people’s judgement of importance just by getting them to answer questions using a heavier clipboard.

In a series of short elegant experiments, a research team led by psychologist Nils Jostmann found that people holding a heavy clipboard would, for example, value foreign currencies more highly than those using a lighter clipboard.

Of course, this might be because of the simple association that larger amounts of money weigh more, so they looked at whether more abstract judgements about value could be affected by weight.

Subsequent studies showed that heavier clipboards led to participants placing more importance on the university listening to student opinions, and that participants were more likely to link their opinion of whether Amsterdam was a great city to the competence of the mayor.

A final study found that visitors who were stopped in the street and asked their opinion on a controversial subway were more confident in their opinion and were more likely to agree with strong arguments for the plan.

The researchers link these findings with the growing field of embodied cognition that suggests that much of our experience of the world is actually mediated through how we interact with it.

Much of this research shows that altering the physical condition of the body affects how we perceive and understand, even for concepts that we think are nothing but metaphors.

Link to summary of ‘Weight as an Embodiment of Importance’.

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