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 flexion—as an approach behavior toward the self—influenced positively the judgment of neutral stimuli, while an arm extension—as a behavior moving away from the self—influenced 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.