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Keywords:

  • Embodiment;
  • Emotion;
  • Flexibility;
  • Laterality;
  • Motivation;
  • Motor congruence

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction
  4. 2. Study 1
  5. 3. Study 2
  6. 4. General discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

To examine the influence of bilateral motor behaviors on flexibility performance, two studies were conducted. Previous research has shown that when performing unilateral motor behavior that activates the affective and motivational systems of approach versus avoidance (arm flexion vs. extension), it is the congruence between laterality and motor activation that determines flexibility-rigidity functioning (Cretenet & Dru, 2009). When bilateral motor behaviors were performed, a mechanism of embodiment was revealed. It showed that the flexibility scores were determined by the match between the respective qualities of congruence of each of the unilateral motor behaviors performed. These results bring to light an overall embodied mechanism associated with the compatibility of the cognitive impact(s) of each motor behavior performed.


1. Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction
  4. 2. Study 1
  5. 3. Study 2
  6. 4. General discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

The core ideas of the embodiment perspective propose that affective and bodily components underlie adaptive behaviors and contribute basically to the understanding of the ongoing relationship with the environment. When the body moves, the components involved account for the fundamental interaction in progress with the world by taking the online relation into consideration, hence contributing—in part—to building our subjective feelings and thoughts (Semin & Smith, 2008). In this way, the embodiment theories establish some interdependent links among motor actions and affective and motivational states, as well as cognitive processes, and support the fundamental idea that cognition co-performs with the body (conceptual processing, Barsalou, 1999, 2008; judgment, Cretenet & Dru, 2004; language, Glenberg & Kaschak, 2002; Zwaan & Taylor, 2006).

Following this orientation, the studies below aim to analyze precisely how multiple behavioral and motor variables influence cognitive functioning. The main question is indeed to determine the global and predominant mechanisms by which different motivational bodily components match and impact cognitive functioning with flexibility measures. Within this scope, a recent research article (Cretenet & Dru, 2009) has shown that a single combination of laterality (the side where the motor behavior is performed) and arm flexion versus extension variables, connected to the fundamental motivational and affective systems of approach and avoidance, determines flexibility functioning. To reveal a potential overall mechanism of embodiment in line with these findings, and to call upon more bodily components, the two studies below aim to examine the impact on flexibility functioning of a more aggregate combination of peripheral and motivational cues, that is, some bilateral behaviors of flexion versus extension of the arms.

1.1. Flexibility: Conceptual view and dimensions

To do this, we will refer to flexibility as an indicator of the core mechanisms that underlie cognitive functioning. The concept of flexibility can be defined as an ability to change one’s beliefs, attitudes, and personal habits (Rokeach, 1960; Schultz & Searleman, 2002). This multidimensional concept (and its opposite, rigidity) does not cover just a single process; it belongs to more integrative cognitive processes. For example, cognitive flexibility commonly refers to the ability to switch and shift the thoughts in progress to arouse new responses and/or approaches (e.g., Schooler & Melcher, 1995). Flexibility correlated with fluency: Fluency is one indicator of the continuous and effortless flow within which cognitive processes occur and are performed (e.g., Alter & Oppenheimer, 2009). In flexibility tasks, fluency is thus assumed to reflect the ability to switch more or less rapidly, and it accounts for the speed of the process at work (e.g., Liefooghe & Verbruggen, 2009; Oppenheimer, 2008; Rubinstein, Meyer, & Evans, 2001). Facing the demands of the flexibility task and the different strategies they require, two forms of cognitive flexibility have been distinguished (e.g., Piguet et al., 2005; Tomer, Aharon-Peretz, & Tsitrinbaum, 2007): one reactive and the other spontaneous (Eslinger & Grattan, 1993; Grattan & Eslinger, 1989). Reactive flexibility requires shifting thought and behavior in relation to external cues; that is, to particular demands and contexts. In a given framework of stimulus and activations, one must change the set of responses in accordance with some particular cues relevant to the task. Spontaneous flexibility refers to the ability to generate a diversity of thoughts, ideas, and/or solutions in response to a single question. According to Eslinger and Grattan (1993), this form of flexibility requires one to “generate diverse and sometimes creative solutions by mounting strategies to move among classes and categories of knowledge” (p. 18). It reflects internally driven strategies (Piguet et al., 2005) and is used as a measure of divergent thinking (Guilford, Christensen, Merrifield, & Wilson, 1978).

1.2. Positive affect and aversive states connected to flexibility

In studying the different relationships between affective processes and cognition, some research has examined the influence of various emotional and motivational states on flexible functioning. One of the most prominent works in this theoretical domain was conducted by Isen and her colleagues (for two reviews, Ashby, Isen, & Turken, 1999; Isen, 2000). The main orientation of this research was to focus on the influence of positive affect on cognitive functioning. For example, it has been demonstrated that positive feelings could lead to an increase of inclusive categorization in analogous exemplar rating tasks (Isen & Daubman, 1984) and also to some changes of strategies in decision-making tasks (Carnevale & Isen, 1986). More interesting for our purpose, Isen, Daubman, and Nowicki (1987, see also Estrada, Isen, & Young, 1997) found that positive affect increases cognitive flexibility, while they did not find any effect of negative affect on a test which required association of words in a flexible way. However, a major part of this research focused on the influence of positive affect, but rarely on the influence of negative feelings on cognitive functions (Freitas, Katz, Azizian, & Squires, 2008). Recent studies (Friedman & Förster, 2005a; Förster, Friedman, Özelsel, & Denzler, 2006; see also Friedman & Förster, 2001) showed that aversive motivational states, compared with approach motivational states, can impact some cognitive processing like perceptual and conceptual attention. This research did not focus precisely on cognitive flexibility; it was just suggested that aversive motivational states can influence cognitive functioning in an opposite direction to the effect of positive affect.

To explore and clarify this last proposition, recent models and research have been oriented to study the effect of motivation direction on flexibility and fluency performance (Gable & Harmon-Jones, 2010; Papousek, Schulter, & Lang, 2009) rather than the effect of valence on cognitive functioning. These authors proposed that affective states should be studied with an approach versus avoidance dimension. Following this proposition, research has been developed, studying not only the influences of conscious affective states or motivational orientation on flexibility but also how peripheral activations of motivational cues induce cognitive functioning (Gable & Harmon-Jones, 2010).

1.3. An embodiment view of motivational effects on flexibility

One question about these innovative studies is whether it is possible to influence cognitive functioning in a nonconscious manner, with the use of some peripheral activations. It has been shown that some bodily and motivational cues can activate the systems of approach or avoidance, triggering inclinations that operate independently of affect (e.g., Cacioppo, Priester, & Berntson, 1993) and self-perception mechanisms (Friedman & Förster, 2000; Strack, Martin, & Stepper, 1988). In a seminal paper inspired by the original work of Solarz (1960; see also Chen & Bargh, 1999), Cacioppo et al. (1993) found that performing an arm flexionas an approach behavior toward the selfinfluenced positively the judgment of neutral stimuli, while an arm extensionas a behavior moving away from the selfinfluenced negatively the judgment of these stimuli. This flexion-extension paradigm paved the way for numerous studies. Some of them (Freina, Baroni, Borghi, & Nicoletti, 2009; Van Dantzig, Pecher, & Zwaan, 2008) looked differently at motor behaviors associated with approach and avoidance; arm flexion and extension were considered as approach or avoidance behaviors depending on the distance between the participant and the object he would like to reach (see also Seibt, Neumann, Nussinson, & Strack, 2008) or depending on its form (a closed or open hand; Freina et al., 2009); these results focused on a cognitive interpretation of the motor behavior performed, although an embodied perspective could also be applied to these behaviors, when multiple bodily variables are involved. Beyond the review of the affective and cognitive consequences of the peripheral and behavioral inputs, the impact of the bodily components themselves on cognitive functioning has increased the understanding of the mechanisms of embodiment at work. So, and more appropriately for the purpose of this article, the impact of the effective approach/avoidance motor behaviors on various cognitive performances, such as those associated with the different facets of creativity (e.g., Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008), has been studied. For example, by the use of the Gestalt Completion Task (Ekstrom, French, Harman, & Dermen, 1976), Friedman and Förster (2000, see also Friedman & Förster, 2002 and Friedman, Förster, & Denzler, 2007) showed that arm flexion, compared with extension, enhances cognitive restructuring associated with the break of a context-induced mental set. In sum, it appeared that the motivational direction of the motor behavior performed led to an increase (flexion-approach) or a decrease (extension-move away) in flexible functioning. For example, a recent study (Friedman & Förster, 2005b), directly in line with our purpose, examined peripheral activations of the approach and avoidance systems and their effects on flexibility (while focusing mainly on attentional processes). The authors have shown (Study 1) that manipulating exteroceptive motivational cues associated with the approach system, compared with those associated with the avoidance system, increased the ability to shift the focus of attention in a Stroop task. Friedman and Förster (2005b) considered this task as assessing attentional flexibility, whereas others (Schultz & Searleman, 2002) have described this test as a measure of cognitive flexibility or rigidity, because the Stroop task requires shifting and maintaining a perceptual set while suppressing a usual response in favor of a novel response.

All these studies have usually found that different conscious affective states did not mediate the effect of motor behaviors on flexibility (see also Friedman & Förster, 2000; Strack et al., 1988). They also showed that no self-perception mechanisms (inferring what one feels from what one has done; Bem, 1967) could explain the results, as participants did not rate the motor behaviors performed as difficult or agreeable, depending on the experimental conditions. These results suggested that motor behaviors, connected to motivational orientations of approach and avoidance, directly influenced flexible functioning.

1.4. The match hypothesis and its embodied view

As the previous research into the emotion-flexibility links has studied the influence of single affective or motivational activations (valenced affective states and motivational approach vs. avoidance cues), some recent experiments have examined the combination of various motivational cues on flexibility. One set of experiments looked at how a fit between motivational states and other elements in the environment can enhance flexibility (Friedman et al., 2007; Grimm, Markman, Maddox, & Baldwin, 2008; Maddox, Baldwin, & Markman, 2006; Markman, Baldwin, & Maddox, 2005). They found that a match between an induced regulatory focus (prevention vs. promotion) and a reward structure (respectively loss vs. gain) led to greater cognitive flexibility, compared with a mismatch of these conditions. This effect has been extended to a task assessing set shifting, the Wisconsin Card Sort Task (WCST; Maddox, Filoteo, Glass, & Markman, 2010). This matching effect has also been found in an interference task requiring attention allocation (De Lange & Van Knippenberg, 2007).

Recent work on embodiment cognition (Cretenet & Dru, 2009) corresponds to these results and stresses that flexibility could be influenced through the involvement of multiple motivational and motor activations. Added to a psychological perspective which examines the influence of approach versus avoidance behaviors (arm flexion vs. extension; Cacioppo et al., 1993) on flexibility, it has been shown in the neuropsychological domain, that two basic motivational response systems associated with cerebral asymmetries are activated by some lateralized motor behaviors (e.g., Harmon-Jones, 2006; Sutton & Davidson, 1997). Davidson (1984, 2004) showed that for right-handers, motivational approach states are linked with a higher activation of the prefrontal cortex of the left hemisphere, whereas motivational avoidance ones are linked with a higher activation of the opposite prefrontal cortex. Because of the spread of cerebral activations linked to the unilateral muscle contractions (Kinsbourne, 1982, 2006) and the closeness of the cerebral regions involved in motor and emotional processing (Kinsbourne & Hicks, 1978), it appeared that contracting the right hand (for right-handers) led, for example, to the production of a more positive story on the base of an ambiguous picture, and that contracting the left hand led to the production of a more negative one (Schiff & Lamon, 1989, 1994). This rationale was proposed because unilateral muscle contractions activate the contra-lateral motor cortex (the left and right hands are controlled by the right and left hemispheres, respectively). These motor cortices are also located in neighboring anterior regions involved in motivational processing (Harmon-Jones, 2006; Schutter, de Weijer, Meuwese, Morgan, & van Honk, 2008). Casasanto (2009) also recently found that right-handers were different from left-handers in their spatial location of emotional valence, showing that laterality helped to embody abstract concepts associated with valence. Laterality could then be understood as handedness, or as the side on which a motor behavior is performed; that is, performing motor behaviors either on the left or right side.

Cognitive performance was also associated with hemispheric asymmetry. For example, Badre and Wagner (2006) found that the left prefrontal cortex helped to resolve conflict in a switching task. Elsewhere, Gray, Braver, and Raichle (2002) found integration in the lateral prefrontal cortex of motivational states and cognitive functioning in a working memory task, without especially involving flexibility measures; similarly, Watanabe and Sakagami (2007; Sakagami & Watanabe, 2007) have also shown that motivational and cognitive information is integrated in the lateral prefontral cortex (LPFC) with the use of a go/no go task. However, these studies did not focus on flexibility functioning. One possible hypothesis would be that the contra-lateral activation of the prefrontal cortex resulted in revealing the cerebral asymmetry in motivational processing and in cognitive set shifting also. Konishi and colleagues did this (Jimura, Konishi, & Miyashita, 2004; Konishi et al., 2002) by demonstrating that flexible adaptation to changing contexts is one of the central functions of the prefrontal cortex. They found that when negative feedback was administrated in the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (Milner, 1963)a test that required flexible adaptation to changing contextsthe right lateral frontal cortex was activated, and that the left lateral frontal cortex was activated during the updating of the response, hence linking the flexible adaptation engaged with the positive approach system predominantly located in the left hemisphere. Whenever updating responses in a switching task cannot be considered only as a flexibility measure, it appears that the asymmetry of the prefrontal cortices is involved in cognitive set shifting and that the left prefrontal cortex is associated with flexible behavior. Set shifting is linked to the same frontal region associated with the processing of motivational approach states. However, the possible connectivity of lateral hemispheric areas responsible for flexibility with motor cortices has not been fully studied yet. It seems interesting to examine this question, bearing in mind that the motivational systems of approach and avoidance would be involved in this connectivity.

Because these overt approach versus avoidance and laterality variables have been shown as both impacting flexible functioning and creative thinking, the effect of their combination constitutes a relevant support for studying an embodied phenomenon linked to different peripheral and motivational cues. The effect of the interaction between these behavioral and motor components on evaluative judgment (Cretenet & Dru, 2004; Dru & Cretenet, 2008) and especially flexible functioning (Cretenet & Dru, 2009), showed a congruence mechanism linked to the activationby one lateralized variable and one flexion/extension variableof the same motivational and affective system (Motor Congruence Effect; Cretenet & Dru, 2004). Performing a right flexion of the arm (two motor and behavioral variables that activate simultaneously the same system of approach) or a left extension (two motor and behavioral variables that activate simultaneously the same system of avoidance/withdrawal) increases perceptual, behavioral, and cognitive flexibility, whereas performing a left flexion or a right extension (two motor and behavioral variables that activate simultaneously the two different systems) decreases flexibility (Cretenet & Dru, 2009). It appears that the quality of congruence, whatever the fundamental system that is activated, is one mechanism of embodiment that accounts for the contribution of the motor system to cognitive functioning. No conscious affective states or self-perception mechanisms mediated the effect of motor congruence on flexibility.

1.5. Bilateral and motor activations of flexibility: The match with congruency

As unilateral motor congruent behaviors, compared with noncongruent ones, seem to influence flexible functioning, what results will be obtained when bilateral motor behaviors are involved; and which mechanisms might explain the results? The extension of this kind of internal phenomena of agreement and concordance with bilateral motor activations should reveal the existence of a phenomenon of overall congruence between the cognitive influences of the two unilateral behaviors. Such a mechanism about the influence of two unilateral motor behaviors performed on evaluative judgment has indeed been found by Cretenet and Dru (2008). They showed that it was the match or mismatch between the qualities of congruence of each unilateral motor behavior performed together that determined the evaluative judgment of different valenced stimuli. Performing two congruent motor behaviors together (right flexion/left extension) or two noncongruent ones (right extension/left flexion) leads to different affective judgments than performing simultaneously one unilateral congruent behavior with a noncongruent one (double extension or double flexion). Right flexion and left extension match one another, because they both determine a quality of congruence; left flexion and right extension match one another because they both determine a quality of noncongruence. Double flexion or double extension determines a mismatch condition, because each unilateral behavior involves a different quality of congruence (congruence/noncongruence and vice versa).

In line with these findings, we proposed that the match between the respective quality of congruence of each arm flexion or/and extension increases flexible functioning, whereas mismatch between these qualities impairs flexibility. In sum, the use of bilateral motor behaviors and the knowledge of their respective quality of congruence or noncongruence make possible the study of the influence of a more overall and complex arrangement of peripheral, motivational, and motor cues on cognitive functioning. Fig. 1 represents this pattern of expected results as the main hypothesis of the research of this article.

image

Figure 1.  Influence of the two unilateral motor behaviors on flexibility.

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1.6. The present research: Bilateral motor behaviors and measures of behavioral and cognitive flexibility

The two studies conducted in this article aim mainly to examine the influence of bilateral and motor activations of the fundamental motivational and affective systems in two tasks involving flexibility. As the flexibility notion is usually connected to different mechanisms and methods of measurement, it has usually been equivalent to the ability to shift from one activity to another (e.g., Schaie, 1955; Schaie, Dutta, & Willis, 1991) and to the ability to generate a diversity of thoughts, ideas, and/or solutions in response to a single question (Eslinger & Grattan, 1993). On the one hand, reactive flexibility requires shifting thought and behavior in relation to external cues; that is, to particular demands and contexts. Thus, the first study focused on Motor Cognitive Flexibility by the use of the Capitals test (Schaie, 1955), which gives an account of effective adjustment to shifts in familiar patterns, as a measure of reactive flexibility. It accounted for the ability to shift from a cognitive activity to a motor one in a task in which they are linked. On the other hand, spontaneous flexibility refers to the ability to generate a diversity of thoughts, ideas, and/or solutions in response to a single question. This form of flexibility (Eslinger & Grattan, 1993) requires the generation of diverse and sometimes creative solutions by mounting strategies to move among classes and categories of knowledge. So the second study involved a cognitive flexibility task (the Alternate Use Task, AUT; Christensen, Guilford, Merrifield, & Wilson, 1960), as an operational measure of spontaneous flexibility. It must be noted that reactive flexibility was assessed through a behavioral, motor-cognitive task, whereas spontaneous flexibility was measured with a pure verbal, cognitive one.

Several mechanisms would be tested whenever previous research found a direct effect of motor behaviors on cognitive functioning. Various emotional states associated with the bilateral arm flexion and/or extension performed could mediate the link between bodily activations and flexible functioning. In addition, a conscious experience of ease, low effort, and speed could also explain the potential effects. Fluency mechanisms, conceptually close to flexibility (De Dreu, Baas, & Nijstad, 2008; Hirt, Devers, & McCrea, 2008), such as subjective or conscious fluency, could therefore help to understand the effects depending on the effort and agreeableness associated with the different behavioral conditions (Winkielman, Schwarz, Fazendeiro, & Reber, 2003).

2. Study 1

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction
  4. 2. Study 1
  5. 3. Study 2
  6. 4. General discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

2.1. Method

2.1.1. Overview

Two short studies were proposed to student volunteers following an organization similar to that in Schiff, Esses, and Lamon’s (1992) work. The first one, presented as the main study, looked into the effects of motor contractions on feelings. The second one, given immediately after as another piece of research led by another member of the laboratory, was then introduced to the participants, regarding motor and cognitive abilities. The Capitals test (Capitals-NR) was administered at this point (Schaie et al., 1991, pp. 373 and 374).

2.1.2. Participants and design

A total of 58 right-handed male student volunteers participated in the experiment (Mean age = 18.51 years, SD = 0.68). Right-handedness was assessed through a six-item questionnaire (Porac & Cohen, 1981) and participants giving at least five appropriate responses were selected.

2.1.3. Procedure and experimental design

Participants were tested individually and invited to participate in a study into the relations between motor contraction and perception. They were assigned to one of the four bilateral motor conditions (Double flexion, double extension, right flexion/left extension, left flexion/right extension). The experimental design was 2 left arm (Extension vs. Flexion) × 2 right arm (Extension vs. Flexion) manipulated between subjects.

They were then asked to press the table with their right and left palms by placing them on the top of and/or under the table and to exert some upward and/or downward pressure. For arm extension, their palm was placed on the top of the table and they exerted a downward pressure. For arm flexion, the palm was placed under the table and they exerted an upward pressure. To ensure that, under these experimental conditions, enough pressure was exerted and that it was similar for the flexion and extension conditions, two rectangular pieces of foam rubber were pasted to the underside and/or to the top of the table, and the participants were instructed to press on the foam until they could feel the table. Positioned in such a way that their upper arms were perpendicular to the floor with only their palm touching the table, participants were instructed to maintain the exerted pressure for a count of 8 s during which time they were asked to evaluate how strongly they experienced the emotion that was indicated on the screen in front of them. Immediately following the 8-s flexion or extension, they had to report their feelings on a 17-point scale ranging from –8 to +8; the question was: “How do you feel right now? (e.g., from “not very happy” to “very happy” for the emotion “happy”). A resting period of 20 s was allowed between each stimulus. Eight adjectives corresponding to the four dimensional extremities of the dimensional model of affect (Barrett & Russell, 1998) were projected: happy and content (pleasant), upset and sad (unpleasant), alert and tense (activation), and calm and lethargic (deactivation). At the end of this first task, the participants were asked to assess the motor behavior performed on a 17-point scale according to the agreeableness and the effort required.

2.1.4. The main dependent variables: The score of the Capitals-NR and Capitals-R tests

In the Capitals task that followed and that was presented as a second independent task, participants were firstly invited to copy in 2½ min as many words as possible of a text that had no valenced orientation and which was written randomly in lower-case and upper-case letters (Capitals-NR). The number of words copied in the first round measures psychomotor speed. After this first round, participants are invited in the second round to perform the same task but to convert the lower-case letters into the upper-case and the upper-case letters into the lower-case. A Motor cognitive flexibility score (Schaie et al., 1991) was consequently assessed by dividing the number of words correctly copied in this second round by the Capitals-NR (first round).

This measure was named Capitals-R and scores were calculated such that higher scores indicated more flexibility. If the number of words correctly copied in the Capitals-NR (first session as a psychomotor speed measure) is close to the number of words copied in the second session (instructional set flexibility), then the motor cognitive flexibility will be considered as high.

2.2. Results and discussion

The participants did not perceive any link between the motor task and the Capitals tests. Table 1 summarizes the different means of the various dependant variables observed in the four experimental conditions.

Table 1.    Means and standard deviations, Study 1
 Right ExtensionRight Flexion
Left ExtensionLeft FlexionLeft ExtensionLeft Flexion
MSDMSDMSDMSD
  1. Note. (n = 58).

Rating of the motor behavior
 Agreeableness−0.043.40−1.661.93−0.113.24−0.512.84
 Effort−4.533.61−6.002.51−5.153.77−4.422.57
Emotional states reported
 Upset0.843.270.300.690.150.550.471.43
 Sad0.250.681.082.741.924.760.090.37
 Happy6.404.536.705.807.385.673.373.54
 Content6.815.157.625.257.425.653.472.86
 Lethargic1.093.090.51.732.805.711.282.4
 Calm1.123.301.623.382.655.781.153.86
 Tense7.565.557.665.115.196.584.255.00
 Alert6.936.017.255.865.306.353.534.11
Flexibility scores
 Capitals-NR (psychomotor speed)26.475.9327.086.3827.845.9929.437.83
 Capitals-R (motor cognitive flexibility)0.70.170.850.160.840.160.740.13
2.2.1. Evaluation of the motor behaviors performed

The agreeableness and the effort required for the motor behavior performed did not vary depending on any motor variables (see Table 1 for all the means; all the Fs < 0.79, and the mean of the Fs was 0.75).

2.2.2. Emotional reports

Evaluations of the different emotional states also did not differ according to the motor behaviors performed (see Table 1 for all the means; all Fs < 2.48, and the mean of these F was 1.34).

2.2.3. The Capitals-NR and the Capitals-R

No significant main effect of each unilateral motor behavior and no interaction of them on the psychomotor speed measure were revealed by an anova [Capitals-NR, FLeft arm(1,54) = 0.39, MSE = 17.25, p = .53, ηp2 = .00, Capitals-NR, FRight arm(1,54) = 1.12, MSE = 49.40, p = .30, ηp2 = .02, Finteraction(1,54) = 0.07, MSE = 03.40, p = .79, ηp2 = .00].

The anova revealed, however, only one interaction effect of the two independent variables on the Capitals-R measure [Motor Cognitive Flexibility, F(1,54) = 9.01, MSE = 0.23, = .031, ηp2 = .14]. Fig. 2 describes this interaction.

image

Figure 2.  Influence of the two unilateral motor behaviors on motor cognitive flexibility. Capitals-R, F(1,54) = 9.01, MSE = 0.23, = .031, ηp2 = .14. Bars represent standard deviations, *< .10, **< .05 after Bonferroni corrections.

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It can be observed that Right Flexion/Left Extension or Right Extension/Left Flexion lead to greater motor cognitive flexibility than Right Extension/Left Extension or Right Flexion/Left Flexion (see the means in Table 1). Comparisons with t-tests were conducted to examine thoroughly these effects. Right Extension/Left Flexion differs significantly from Right Extension/Left Extension (< .01, marginally significant with Bonferroni corrections, p = .094). Right Flexion/Left Extension differs from Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .08) without statistical significance. Right Extension/Left Extension differs from Right Flexion/Left Extension (< .02, not significant with Bonferroni corrections), whereas no difference was observed with Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .51). Right Extension/Left Flexion differs marginally from Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .06, not significant with Bonferroni corrections), whereas no difference was observed with Right Flexion/Left Extension (< .88). While these different comparisons were not all significant (they tested significance with part of the overall statistical information), the complete pattern of the responses (the interaction effect tested significance with the overall statistic information) was the one expected.

ancovas were conducted with the affective states and evaluations used as covariates. In all the analyses, the effect remained significant, indicating that it was not affected by the different emotional reports and ratings of the motor behaviors. This supports a direct route for the bilateral motor behaviors to influence the motor flexibility measure.

The overall results correspond with the Motor Congruence Model (albeit to a moderate effect size) by extending it to the match between the congruent qualities of the two unilateral motor behaviors performed (Cretenet & Dru, 2004; Dru & Cretenet, 2008). The flexibility that follows from different motor and behavioral activations is one possible consequence of the architecture of the fundamental motivational systems (e.g., Berntson & Cacioppo, 2008). The congruence of the activations triggered by one unilateral motor behavior (Cretenet & Dru, 2009) and the match between two unilateral behaviors when bilateral motor behaviors are performed account for the function of the flexibility process. The most plausible interpretation of this result suggests that the match (or balance) between the different activations of the motivational systems through two unilateral motor variables increases flexibility, whereas the mismatch (or imbalance) between these activations impairs this flexibility. This process requires simultaneous access to different categories which require synchrony (or congruence) and possible interconnectivity between the neural networks activated during the process. Study 1 tested the effects of bilateral motor behaviors on behavioral measures of reactive flexibility through a motor-cognitive task. As a link between motor activations of approach and avoidance states and motor assessment of cognitive flexibility has been found, it would be interesting to extend this result to a verbal flexibility task. The second study will try to replicate these effects on a cognitive and verbal measure of flexibility, as a measure of spontaneous flexibility, allowing for consideration of flexible thinking coupled with other measures linked to creative thinking. The AUT (Christensen et al., 1960; Lezak, Howieson, Loring, Hannay, & Fischer, 2004) provides some measures of verbal fluency, cognitive flexibility, and originality, during various longer timed periods (2–4–6–8–10 min manipulated within subjects) that provide the potential replication of the motor congruence model over time.

3. Study 2

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction
  4. 2. Study 1
  5. 3. Study 2
  6. 4. General discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

3.1. Method

3.1.1. Participants

A total of 89 student volunteers participated in the experiment (89 males, average age = 20.44 years, SD = 1.13) and were invited to indicate their right-handedness and selected through the same questionnaire used in the previous study (Porac & Cohen, 1981).

3.1.2. Procedure and experimental design

The procedure for Study 2 was exactly the same as for Study 1: Participants were invited to perform bilateral motor behaviors (Right Flexion/Left Extension, Left Flexion/Right Extension, double Flexion, double Extension), while rating their emotional states. They completed the Alternate Use Test (AUT; Christensen et al., 1960; Guilford et al., 1978; Lezak et al., 2004) presented as independent of the first task. The experimental design was 2 left arm (Extension vs. Flexion) × 2 right arm (Extension vs. Flexion) × 5 (Time: 2–4–6–8–10 min corresponding to five different items) with this last variable manipulated within subjects.

3.1.3. The AUT: Measures of verbal fluency, cognitive flexibility, and originality

Participants were invited to complete an adapted version of the AUT (see Lezak et al., 2004) in which they had to generate as many alternative uses for five different items as they could in 2 min (2 min for each item, 10 min in total for the five items). They were instructed to avoid uses that were typical or nonsensical, and the one that was provided as an example. The five items were in the following order: Brick, Pencil, Sheet of paper, Shoe, Toothpick. For each item, scores of verbal fluency, cognitive flexibility, and originality were calculated. On the basis of the valid responses, the verbal fluency score corresponded to the number of responses for each item. The cognitive flexibility score corresponded to the number of different categories these responses belonged to; it was determined by three independent judges (interjudge reliabilities: .74 on the basis of the total responses). And an originality score was calculated by comparing the responses of each participant with those of all the participants. Responses that were given by under 5% of the group scored 3, under 10% 2, under 15% 1 (over 15%, no score was attributed). The verbal fluency, cognitive flexibility, and originality measures were also assessed over five timed periods (time being manipulated within subjects).

3.2. Results and discussion

3.2.1. Evaluation of the motor behaviors performed and emotional reports

No links were perceived by the participants between the motor task and the AUT. In accordance with Study 1, reports of the different emotional states and evaluations of the motor behavior (agreeableness and effort required) were not influenced by the motor variables (see means in Table 2).

Table 2.    Means and standard deviations, Study 2
 Right ExtensionRight Flexion
Left ExtensionLeft FlexionLeft ExtensionLeft Flexion
MSDMSDMSDMSD
  1. Note. (n = 89).

Rating of the motor behavior
 Agreeableness4.260.964.291.214.301.043.191.06
 Effort5.071.115.821.404.591.234.471.20
Emotional states reported
 Upset3.720.903.441.134.090.992.650.97
 Sad5.221.085.951.364.681.204.571.17
 Happy2.641.461.481.843.691.621.091.58
 Content0.620.290.320.370.921.310.240.32
 Lethargic1.110.761.761.950.950.841.950.82
 Calm0.850.500.790.630.430.550.580.54
 Tense0.850.360.760.460.450.400.560.39
 Alert0.740.300.550.390.510.340.410.33
AUT scores
 Verbal fluency3.040.213.940.283.640.232.820.23
 Cognitive flexibility2.840.193.380.243.370.212.630.20
 Originality5.940.578.030.727.570.635.510.53
3.2.2. Verbal fluency, cognitive flexibility, and originality

As these dependent variables are usually linked one to the other [r(verbal fluency-flexibility) = .73; r(verbal fluency-originality) = .56; r(flexibility-originality) = .54], a manova was conducted and revealed only one interaction effect of the two unilateral behaviors on the dependent variables [F(3,81) = 4.55, Wilks’ lambda = 0.85, < .006, ηp2 = .14].

Conducting univariate tests, the anovas revealed one main effect of time on verbal fluency [F(4,340) = 2.60, MSE = 13.30, = .04, ηp2 = .03, Mtime1 = 3.26, Mtime2 = 3.08, Mtime3 = 3.41, Mtime4 = 3.33, Mtime5 = 3.61], and on Originality [F(4,340) = 10.21, MSE = 338.81, = .0001, ηp2 = .108, Mtime1 = 8.13, Mtime2 = 6.09, Mtime3 = 6.43, Mtime4 = 5.58, Mtime5 = 7.58]. No effect was found for Cognitive Flexibility [F(4,340) = 1.01, MSE = 4.62, = .40, ηp2 = .01].

The anova revealed only one interaction effect of the motor variables (no main effect on these variables) on the verbal fluency measure [F(1,83) = 12.519, MSE = 15.38, <.0007, ηp2 = .13], on the cognitive flexibility measure [F(1,83) = 9.46, MSE = 9.41, = .003, ηp2 = .10], and on the originality variable [F(1,83) = 96.32, MSE = 10.74, = .002, ηp2 = .11]. No significant interaction effect between these variables and time appeared (see means in Table 2).

It can be observed (see Fig. 3) that the match between the qualities of congruence or noncongruence of the two unilateral motor behaviors performed together (Right Flexion/Left Extension and Right Extension/Left Flexion) determined higher scores of verbal fluency, cognitive flexibility, and originality, whereas two unilateral motor behaviors, whose qualities of congruence or noncongruence did not match (Right Flexion/Left Flexion and Right Extension/Left Extension), determined lower scores on these variables. For the fluency measure, Right Extension/Left Flexion differs significantly from Right Extension/Left Extension (< .01, marginally significant with Bonferroni corrections, p = .08). Right Flexion/Left Extension differs marginally from Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .02, marginally significant with Bonferroni corrections, p = .07). Right Extension/Left Extension differs marginally from Right Flexion/Left Extension (< .06, not significant with Bonferroni corrections), whereas no difference was observed with Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .49). Right Extension/Left Flexion differs from Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .003, significant with Bonferroni corrections, p = .015), whereas no difference was observed with Right Flexion/Left Extension (< .42). For the cognitive flexibility variable, Right Extension/Left Flexion differs marginally from Right Extension/Left Extension (< .06, not significant with Bonferroni corrections). Right Flexion/Left Extension differs from Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .01, marginally significant with Bonferroni corrections, p = .09). Right Extension/Left Extension differs marginally from Right Flexion/Left Extension (< .06, not significant with Bonferroni corrections), whereas no difference was observed with Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .46). Right Extension/Left Flexion differs from Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .01, marginally significant with Bonferroni corrections, = .09), whereas no difference was observed with Right Flexion/Left Extension (< .81). Finally for the originality measure, Right Extension/Left Flexion differs significantly from Right Extension/Left Extension (< .01, marginally significant with Bonferroni corrections, = .09). Right Flexion/Left Extension differs from Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .03, not significant with Bonferroni corrections). Right Extension/Left Extension differs marginally from Right Flexion/Left Extension (< .06, not significant with Bonferroni corrections), whereas no difference was observed with Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .71). Right Extension/Left Flexion differs from Right Flexion/Left Flexion (< .008, significant with Bonferroni corrections, = .05), whereas no difference was observed with Right Flexion/Left Extension (< .46). These results are similar to Study 1. ancovas were conducted with each emotional report and evaluations of the bilateral motor behaviors as covariates. As the measures of the bilateral conditions effects remained significant, this indicated conscious emotional states, so conscious feelings of effortlessness and agreeableness of the motor action, as possible mediators, could not explain the results.

image

Figure 3.  Influence of the two unilateral motor behaviors on verbal fluency, cognitive flexibility, and originality. Alternate Use Test, AUT, Ffluency(1, 83) = 12.519, MSE = 15.38, < .0007, ηp2 = .13, Fflexibility(1, 83) = 9.46, MSE = 9.41, = .003, ηp2 = .10, Foriginality(1, 83) = 96.32, MSE = 10.74, = .002, ηp2 = .11. Bars represent standard deviations, *< .10, **< .05 after Bonferroni corrections.

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4. General discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction
  4. 2. Study 1
  5. 3. Study 2
  6. 4. General discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

The results of these two studies show that the match between the qualities of congruence (or noncongruence) of the unilateral motor behaviors impacts flexibility scores. These results are replicated with two different aspects of flexible thinking (reactive and spontaneous flexibility, behavioral and cognitive flexibility) and shed new light on the studies which showed that the activation of the positive motivational approach system or of some avoidance-related motivational states triggered flexible responses to various cognitive tasks (Friedman & Förster, 2000, 2002, 2005a,b; Friedman et al., 2006; Isen et al., 1987). More particularly, they developed the studies which show that a combination of the laterality and arm flexion/extension variables determined flexibility functioning (Cretenet & Dru, 2009). This set of experiments extended also, in an embodied orientation, how a fit between motivational states and other elements of the environment can enhance flexibility (Friedman et al., 2007; Grimm et al., 2008; Maddox et al., 2006; Markman et al., 2005). However, the results found here go beyond these studies in examining the facets of flexibility when motivational cues are at stake, through the involvement of multiple motivational and motor activations.

4.1. Understanding the cognitive impact of motor and behavioral components: The need for complementary perspectives

The integration of psychological and cognitive neuroscientific contributions appears as one relevant route to reveal and understand the basic embodied mechanisms linked to the observed phenomena (e.g., Barsalou, 2008; Cacioppo & Decety, 2009). These complementary perspectives create the conditions to discover potential neural and cross-modal associations directly associated with the consequences of some motivational and motor states on cognitive experiences (e.g., Marshall, 2009), and more particularly on flexibility functioning. The use and comparison of some cognitive and neuropsychological cues linked to the cerebral lateralization of emotional and motivational functions, with some psychological findings and paradigms that support the existence of two motivational and affective systems of approach or avoidance, represent such a condition and have been applied here.

Then it appears necessary, when examining behavioral influences upon cognition, to consider cognitive functioning with a systemic approach (e.g., Von Bertalanffy, 1968) in which the different intra- and interhemispheric activations linked notably to congruent and behavioral motor components are interdependent, rather than only considering some localized hemispheric specializations necessarily linked to sum or concurrent cognitive effects (Bartolic, Basso, Schefft, Glauser, & Titanic-Schefft, 1999). In the light of the complexity of brain functions, one cognitive activity cannot properly be linked only to just one specific cerebral region, although certain cognitive processes appear to be more strongly associated with particular brain areas than others (see e.g., Borkenau & Mauer, 2006; Konishi et al., 2002; Jimura et al., 2004). As Kohn, Zandvakili, and Smith (2009) indicated in one recent article, neural activity in the cortex is interconnected. The correlated neural activations depend on network fluctuations extending across areas and sensitive to internal states, and they suggest a cognitive and embodied approach to understand the overall congruence phenomena found in these experiments. The different bodily and motivational activations of the motivational systems might thus trigger some fluctuations of brain activity and reflect the more or less high congruence (or correlations) between these activations, as an embodied mechanism. Salinas and Sejnowski (2001) support this potential explanation by indicating that correlated fluctuations of neuronal activity might be important for cortical processes that control the flow of information in the brain. In the neuropsychological approach, it has been proposed that the more complex a task is, the more advantageous the interhemispheric interaction, because the hemispheres are supposed to be able to pool processing resources (Weissman & Banich, 1999). In this way, Shobe, Ross, and Fleck (2009) suggested that creative and flexible processes were better qualified as a collaborative effort of the two hemispheres (interhemispheric interactions, IHI); bilateral eye movements, as a means of activating IHI, facilitated originality and flexibility processes in particular conditions of handedness. Propper, Pierce, Geisler, Christman, and Bellorado (2007) found also that bilateral eye movements were associated with changes in interhemispheric coherence in the prefrontal cortex. These hemispheric connections are also close to the ones involved in approach and avoidance motivational processes and unilateral and bilateral motor behaviors within the motor congruence model; recent source localization research on EEG alpha power over the frontal cortices has suggested that the frontal activations related to emotion and motivation are due to activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, close to motor areas (PFC; Pizzagalli, Sherwood, Henriques, & Davidson, 2005). Beyond the neuroscientific search for understanding the results, a cognitive and embodied perspective connecting flexible performance in various experimental tasks with motor variables appears to be useful to understand the results presented here.

4.2. Considering the results facing embodied cognition: Bodily activations as correlates of thought?

The relation between peripheral and motor activations, flexibility and performance is complex and one cannot provide a definitive explanation for the effect found. Motor congruence and the underlying mechanisms revealed here (see also Cretenet & Dru, 2004, 2009) account for some cerebral correlates of cognitive processing by showing how flexibility functioning is grounded in congruent cognitive and behavioral patterns.

The theories of embodied cognition claim that high-level cognitive processes use partial reactivations of states in motor, sensory, and affective systems. So cognition must be understood in the context of its relationship to a physical body interacting with its environment (see e.g., Barrett, 2009). These theories support the central idea that off-line cognition is body based: The results found here reveal that on-line processing is, too. The motor and behavioral influences on cognitive functioning are based on the internal congruence (or noncongruence) between the different cognitive influences that the different bodily components arouse. When one single motor behavior is performed, it is the congruence between the motivational activations its variables arouse that determines its cognitive impact on flexible functioning. When two motor behaviors are simultaneously performed, it is the match between the respective influences of each motor behavior (an overall congruence) that determines more or less flexible functioning.

However, such an embodied understanding of the results presented could be challenged by an ideomotor principle and the Theory of Event Coding (Hommel, Müsseler, Aschersleben, & Prinz, 2001). According to the ideomotor hypothesis, a motor pattern could be determined by the representation of its effect when this pattern has already been automatically associated with perceptual and cognitive inputs of this effect. Eder and Rothermund (2008) and Eder and Klauer (2009) have shown that motor behaviors of approach and avoidance could be interpreted differently, depending on the conscious intended effects of these behaviors. For example, Eder and Rothermund (2008) found that the correspondence between affective stimuli and lever movements was critically dependent upon the evaluative meaning of the response labels that are used in the task instructions. They proposed that evaluative implications of action instructions assign affective codes to motor responses on a representational level. These interpretations fit well with experiments which studied the link between motivational orientation coding such as approach and avoidance, with one motor variable (flexion vs. extension) represented differently through task instructions. While such a cognitive interpretation would be correct in the experimental contexts reported, it appears irrelevant for the moment to explain complex motor congruence through multiple bodily variables involved, influencing flexibility. As it seems difficult to identify motor responses associated with a representational level for motor congruence, an embodied perspective like the one developed in this article appears to be relevant, bearing in mind that this perspective would also benefit from a cognitive approach.

In conclusion, when the body is not directly engaged, the theories of embodied cognition claim that re-activations of motor and behavioral cues are used as objects of thought (e.g., Barsalou, Breazeal, & Smith, 2007; Gallese, 2009). The results of this research propose that when some motivational and motor behaviors are effectively performed, they might determine some correlates of thought, and then impact the process of thought itself, according to an overall mechanism of embodiment: Motor Congruence. Flexible thinking calls for optimal cerebral functioning: The synchrony and the balance of the motivational activations triggered by the bilateral arm flexion and extension seem to offer such a condition and reveal one manifest mechanism of embodied cognition.

Acknowledgments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1. Introduction
  4. 2. Study 1
  5. 3. Study 2
  6. 4. General discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

The authors contributed equally to this research. They are grateful to S. Duret, L. Grandjean and L. Beaulieu, G. Dire, S. Freddi, M. P. Offredo, and R. Sanz for their technical assistance.

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  3. 1. Introduction
  4. 2. Study 1
  5. 3. Study 2
  6. 4. General discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
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